Steve Dalkowski will finally make it to the major leagues tomorrow at Camden Yards when he throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Orioles' game against the Seattle Mariners.
Dalkowski, 64, is widely regarded as one of the fastest pitchers in baseball history, but he couldn't conquer his wildness on or off the mound. He failed to reach the majors despite spending almost a decade in the Orioles' minor league system in the '50s and '60s.
Since leaving baseball, he has battled alcoholism and alcohol-related dementia, and was briefly homeless in Southern California in the early '90s.
Now living in New Britain, Conn., and sober for a decade, he has recently experienced improved recall and has begun to enjoy his status as one of baseball's most distinctive characters.
Screenwriter Ron Shelton used him as the basis for the hard-throwing, hard-living Nuke Laloosh in the movie Bull Durham.
Throwing out the first pitch at Camden Yards will mean a lot to him, said Dalkowski's sister, Patti Cain, who lives near her brother in Connecticut.
"After not making the major leagues, it's just great for him to be able to get that recognition in Baltimore," Cain said. "It will be so important to him."
Arden Courts, an assisted-living facility in Pikesville specializing in Alzheimer's and dementia patients, is celebrating Dalkowski's appearance with a luncheon before the game in the Designated Hitters Lounge in the warehouse.
Boog Powell, who played with Dalkowski in spring training and on a winter ball team in Puerto Rico, will be among the speakers.
Dalkowski's high school baseball coach and more than 30 other friends and family members will travel from Connecticut for the event.
In his athletic prime, Dalkowski, a left-hander who wore eyeglasses, threw 100 mph, even though he was under 6 feet tall and weighed 170 pounds. Earl Weaver, who managed him in the minors, said he had the ability to become "another Sandy Koufax."
But he was unable to control his rising fastball, and pitch after pitch sailed out of the strike zone. He set numerous records for walks and strikeouts, some of which still stand.
Time magazine profiled him in 1960 in an article headlined "The Wildest Pitcher." That year, he struck out 262 and walked 262 in 170 innings in the California League.
He didn't help himself with his off-field habits, which included a succession of late nights at bars.
"I'd look at the clock over the bar and see that it was curfew, and I'd say, 'Aw, I'll worry about that tomorrow,' " Dalkowski said in an interview with The Sun earlier this year.
Dalkowski finally seemed under control on and off the field in 1963, when he was one of the best pitchers in the Orioles' spring training camp in Miami. He was fitted for a Baltimore uniform on the morning of March 22, 1963, but suffered an elbow injury in an exhibition game that afternoon.
Dave McNally replaced him on the roster and went on to become a mainstay of the Orioles' pitching staff.
Dalkowski never again came close to reaching the majors.
His only mound appearance in Baltimore before this weekend was an inning in an exhibition game against the Reds at Memorial Stadium in 1958. He struck out the side.
Cain said her brother has thrown off a mound for the first time in decades in preparation for tomorrow's first-pitch duties.
"I asked him how it went and he said, 'My arm feels good,' " Cain said. "He's excited. He didn't say much for a long time, but he's lively and fun now. I like to think the chance to appear at Camden Yards is part of his improvement."
A $48.50 ticket to the luncheon and game can be purchased through Arden Courts at 443-394-9788 or 410-415-7403.