Virginia E.K. Fowble, scorekeeper for amateur teen baseball teams for a half century and longtime educator, died of cancer Sunday at the Masonic Home of Maryland. The former Highlandtown resident was 87.
With her husband, the late Sterling "Sheriff" Fowble, she was an integral part of an East Baltimore-based sandlot organization that produced one Hall of Famer among at least a dozen other major league baseball players since its beginning in 1946.
"I always said the best thing we did was we kept 18 boys out of trouble for four months of the year," Mrs. Fowble said in a 1995 Sun interview.
Her telephone answering machine featured a man singing "Take Me out to the Ballgame." Callers were told that the Fowbles of Highlandtown would get back to them "when we get back to home plate!"
"Virginia was one of a kind. There was no more willing helper to be found anywhere," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a friend for many years. "Her sunny disposition and lack of pretension were always refreshing."
The former Virginia Elizabeth Karow was born and lived nearly all of her life in a two-story rowhouse on South East Avenue, which she left five years ago because of declining health.
A 1935 Eastern High School graduate, she earned a degree at what was then Western Maryland College, where she played field hockey and softball. While at college, she met Mr. Fowble, who went on to play outfield for a Boston Red Sox farm team in the Piedmont League. They married in 1940. Her husband died in 1991.
While her husband began a 42-year career as a Bethlehem Steel accountant - later, he was also a scout for the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds - Mrs. Fowble was a substitute teacher at Patterson Park High School from 1946 to 1954 and became its physical education teacher.
After earning a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University, she became the City College librarian from 1967 to 1970, then a library and education specialist in the Baltimore school system until she retired in 1980.
Mr. Fowble was playing for a Sparrows Point team in 1946 when East Baltimore teens asked him to be their coach.
"She talked her husband into it. She was the catalyst," William Pfeifer, captain of the first Fowble team and now retired principal of Overlea High School, said yesterday. "She and her husband had no children of their own, and she became a mother to all us boys. She taught us to be polite, dress well, work with the other kids. She encouraged the academics."
Her husband fielded his first sandlot team in 1946 at Field No. 1 in Patterson Park. High's Ice Cream was the sponsor. Mrs. Fowble, known as Miss Virginia, kept score, tended the skinned knees, took the team picture and made sure the 14- and 15-year-olds showed her their report cards. The team went 38-5 in its first two seasons, The Sun's 1995 story said.
Over the years, Fowble teams had various sponsors. Their players who reached the majors included Al Kaline, who began his Hall of Fame career as a Detroit Tigers outfielder straight out of Southern High, Dave Boswell, Phil Linz, Jim Spencer, Tim Nordbrook, Ron Swoboda and Moose Haas.
In 1977, their team - then known as Highland Federal - played Putty Hill. As its scorekeeper, she had penciled in a player for the opposing team named Cal Ripken, who went 1-for-2.
"He was a tall, unremarkable player. Who could have known?" she said in the 1995 interview after being honored at a banquet.
"Miss Virginia, dressed in white and pinned with a corsage, tries to sit still at the head table," the Sun account said. "She keeps standing to direct the photography. The boys need their pictures taken with the likes of Linz and Swoboda, so the photographer keeps watching for Miss Virginia's cues. She makes sure these moments are also preserved. Nothing should be lost."
"This whole night," she said, "has been a gift to me."
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St., where she was a member.
Mrs. Fowble is survived by nieces, nephews and cousins.