With Lewis, Bumbry, Boston is baked with city connections


A week's vacation in New England served as a reminder to me of the sports ties between Baltimore and Boston.

For example, there's Dunbar High grad Reggie Lewis. Most Baltimore sports fans know by now that Lewis -- who was the sixth man on the Dunbar basketball team of a decade ago that produced Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and David Wingate -- has really arrived as a Boston Celtic.

I'm not sure they realize he is the Boston Celtic.

Consider this from the August issue of Boston Magazine, listing the city's best and worst: "Best Player for the Celtics -- Reggie Lewis. He is the future of this franchise."

I checked with the Celtics on this. Boston Magazine is right. The team's high scorer last season was not Larry Bird. It was Reggie Lewis with a 20.8 average. Bird averaged 20.2.

In the playoffs, Lewis stepped it up to 28.0. Kevin McHale was next at 16.0. Bird was able to start only 45 regular-season games. Lewis started all 82.

"Reggie is definitely our go-to guy now," a Celtics spokesman told me.

Not bad for a player heading into his sixth NBA season who was the 22nd pick in the draft coming out of Northeastern.

* Even in mid-summer there are tours every 30 minutes (at $5 a head) of the fabled arena where Lewis plays -- the Boston Garden.

The Garden, completed in 1928, was built in a period of 11 1/2 months. Ground has been broken for a new Garden -- six inches from the old one. The new place will open, hopefully, in September of 1995.

Question: Why, with modern technology, does it take more than three years to build a sports arena today, when it took less than one to do it 64 years ago?

* Some amazing things I learned on the tour of the Garden:

When Walter Brown bought the Celtics in 1948, the price was $2,000. The Celtics have sold out every home game since 1980. When the new Garden opens, only three things will be transferred from the old one -- the parquet floor, the championship banners of the Celtics and Bruins that hang from the rafters, and the glass case-enclosed microphone of legendary Celtics play-by-play man Johnny Most.

* Sunday a week ago at Fenway Park, the Baltimore connection was the most obvious. The Red Sox's opponent was the Orioles.

When I went to will-call to pay for my tickets, the man at the window asked who had left them. Phil Itzoe, the Orioles traveling secretary, I told him.

"Phil Itzoe," he exclaimed. "Of all the traveling secs in the American League, Phil Itzoe is the best. Always even tempered. What a class guy."

I wondered if Baltimore's sports public -- and even the club's present ownership and management -- has any idea how much employees like Itzoe and longtime PR man Bob Brown have done over the decades to reflect credit on the Orioles.

* When the game started, coaching first base for Boston was one of the all-time favorite Orioles, Al Bumbry. Every time I drive by Bumbry's house on Falls Road (he still lives here) I regret that Bee had to go to Boston to find a big-league job. He belongs in Baltimore.

* Seated next to me that day was a labor negotiator/baseball fanatic from the San Francisco Bay area named Chuck Askin. He and his sons were on a 21-day, 14-city tour of major-league ballparks.

He would go on to Baltimore to get his first look at Camden Yards, but he said the best one he had seen was Chicago's Wrigley Field.

"Wrigley," he said, "is the Field of Dreams. The grass is greener than at Fenway Park, where it's kind of burned out. Wrigley Field is immaculate. No billboards or ads inside the place. Just baseball."

* The Boston-Baltimore connection runs into football. The University of Maryland's new coach, Mark Duffner, came from Holy Cross, 40 miles from Boston in Worcester. I asked Bill Doyle, who covered Duffner's teams for the Worcester Telegram, what he thought of Mark.

"He's a very good coach," Doyle said. "Very organized and positive. Hard worker. If anyone can turn Maryland into a winner, Duffner can."

The Baltimore connection goes deeper, Doyle explained.

"The reason Holy Cross has a winning football team," he said, "is Edward Bennett Williams [the late Orioles owner].

"Williams was a Holy Cross alumnus. He went out and raised the money to upgrade the stadium and the whole football program.

"Williams made it possible for them to attract Rick Carter as coach, and Carter brought Duffner with him. When Carter committed suicide, Duffner became the head coach."

EBW truly was a builder. If he hadn't refused to sign a long-term lease for Memorial Stadium, we'd not have Oriole Park.

And if EBW had not led the campaign to revive Holy Cross football, Mark Duffner probably would not be coaching football at Maryland.

Sometimes you have to go away from your own hometown to learn such things.

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