Obviously, it was of no great significance to the on-field performance of the Baltimore Orioles when their head groundskeeper and chief financial officer announced their retirements recently. But, make no mistake about it, people such as Pat Santarone and Joe Hamper were an important part of what has made the Orioles an envied organization in baseball through the years.
As groundskeeper, Santarone was more visible than Hamper, whose work as comptroller kept him behind the scenes. And, they were about as opposite in personality as their job descriptions -- Santarone more intense, outspoken and outgoing, and Hamper laid-back.
It wasn't just that they performed their duties so well that made them such valuable assets, although to know them was to realize they were among the best in their professions. No, it was their loyalty to the organization and to their fellow workers, the feeling of friendship and camaraderie that surrounded them. I guess what I'm getting at is that not only were they among the best at their jobs, but they are good, decent human beings, the kind you enjoy being around, having for friends.
There aren't many who handle grass better than Santarone. He always said he could grow it on I-95, and I wouldn't want to bet against him. George Toma, the longtime groundskeeper for not only the Kansas City Royals, but also for the Kansas City Athletics before they moved to Oakland, is regarded highly enough to be hired by the National Football League each year to oversee the grooming of the Super Bowl field. He once told me that Santarone is the best man at working with grass he ever knew.
Santarone has been called in to work on athletic fields and turf courses all over this country, and has been flown to Europe to consult on some of the top racecourses there.
Hamper? Now that he is retired, I guess it won't hurt to admit he was a good news source for me through the years. Not only is he a sharp guy with good judgment, but he also signed all the checks, paid the bills. He knew what was going on.
I never quoted him, you understand, but when I needed to know something in his area, he was my man. Not that he ever betrayed a trust of the organization, but even when he couldn't tell you specifics, he was so honest he couldn't play games with the truth. He'd just say something like, "Don't ask me that now. Wait a year or so."
I don't know the newer employees as well, but somehow I don't believe I see as many Joe Hampers and Pat Santarones around the Orioles, or baseball in general these days, probably because everything has to be geared to big bucks and the bottom line.
A good friend, John McCracken, who is general manager of the Worthington Steel plant in this area, called the other day to share a few thoughts. He is a gentleman who believes that if a company is able to generate good business in a community, it should give something back, and as one who is especially interested in sports, he has done much for the athletic departments of Navy, the University of Maryland and others.
This time he said: "We hear a lot these days about athletes being selfish, getting into trouble with drugs and other things, so it's always refreshing when you see a guy who has his head on straight. Do you remember Warren Powers?"
The 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive tackle for Maryland who has been with the Denver Broncos the past two years and is now a starter? "That's the one," McCracken said. "I gave him a summer job when he was at Maryland, and he really worked at it. He was well-liked here.
"Well, he was raised in poor, inner-city circumstances, has done well, and now wants to help others do the same. He is back in town for a visit with his mother. Why don't you give him a call?"
I did, and we had a pleasant conversation, the kind that leaves you with a good feeling. He was staying at a home he had bought for his mother in Jarrettsville.
"I'm so happy I could do it," he said of the house. "I've got a great mom. She was always there when I needed her. I wasn't around my pop too much, because they were divorced when I was 9."
Didn't Powers play football at Edmondson High School? "Sure did," he said. "Lived just a few blocks from the school. There was a lot of drugs and stuff around there, but I never got involved with it. . . . because of my mom and my faith in the Lord that she gave me. They brought me through."
When it was mentioned to him that I had heard he was trying to help others, he said, "Well, I try to go to inner-city schools -- most of it has been in Denver because I'm there more, but I want to do some here, too -- and basically give the kids reason for hope. I can tell them I was raised in the same circumstances, and offer proof that if they stay in school, keep away from drugs and the other things, they can make it.
"Kids get discouraged, give up hope -- even the athletes -- and that's when they get in trouble. I'm in the process of organizing some football clinics. I want to bring some pro players around to these schools and see if we can't get through to them."
In other words, Warren Powers listened to the words of a good mother, made it through some tough times to be successful, and now wants to help others follow the same path. You can only applaud his effort and wish him well.