On Thursday, which would have been Leon Day's 98th birthday, the widow of the baseball Hall of Famer plans to pay homage to her man. She'll drive to Arbutus Memorial Park, kneel by his graveside and tie a balloon to the stone. Happy Birthday, one side of the balloon will read; a happy face will grace the other.
"It's something I always do," said Geraldine Day, 75, of Catonsville. They'd been married 34 years when Day, who grew up in Baltimore and starred as a pitcher in the Negro leagues, died in 1995 of heart failure at St. Agnes Hospital — six days after learning of his election to the Hall of Fame.
She'll not forget his last words.
"I asked Leon, 'You're not gonna leave me, are you?' and he said, 'No, baby, I'm gonna be here for you — and I've got to go up there [to Cooperstown] to get my Hall of Fame ring.'
"For a year, I went to the cemetery every day," she said. "I sat by Leon's grave, on a bench under a big tree, and read my Bible — unless the Orioles were playing. Then I'd turn on the car radio and leave the door open so I could sit there and hear the ball game. That's how I grieved; Leon loved baseball."
That passion lives on in his widow. She attended "about a dozen" Orioles games this past season and watched the rest on television, even those on the West Coast that started late. Those nights, she sat in a straight-backed chair, in the living room of her small apartment, lest she nod off during an Orioles' rally.
Camden Yards is her second home. Routinely, Day loiters with fans above the dugout before games to get autographs and to chat with Orioles who know her, like Adam Jones and manager Buck Showalter.
Then she stops at Boog Powell's barbecue stand for a turkey sandwich and a hug from the owner before settling into her seat in Section 16 to cheer the team — and to speak her mind.
"I'll be fussin' most of the time at the players, when they're makin' those errors or swingin' their bats down in the dirt," she said. "Or I'll be arguin' at Buck to take out the pitcher. I'll holler, 'If I can see he ain't got nothin', then you should see it, too.'
"Buck's a great manager, but sometimes I get disgusted with him for letting certain relief pitchers, like [Darren] O'Day and [Tommy] Hunter, stay in too long. I'll be talking to my TV saying, "Please don't bring O'Day back out to pitch a second inning,' but here comes O'Day, and there goes a home run."
Day's fancy for the club is real, said Ray Banks, curator of the Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro Leagues Baseball in Owings Mills.
"The love she has for her Orioles is unbelievable. If Geraldine is at Camden Yards and those around her aren't talking baseball, she'll get up and move to a seat where she can concentrate on the game," said Banks, of Rosedale. "Baseball is mental therapy for her. The way the Orioles are playing keeps her going."
"I love J.J. Hardy. He's out of sight," she said. "Adam Jones is one of the best center fielders around but, at bat, he gets too excited. Some balls he swings at are ridiculous. 'Keep that home run out of your mind and just get on base,' I'll say.
"Nelson Cruz? I hope they try to keep him one more season. [Manny] Machado? That young boy is good, whenever he's playing. But they should trade [pitcher Wei-Yin] Chen — he can't hardly get past four innings."
Evaluations aside, the Orioles' future is bright, she said: "They've got a taste of [the postseason] now; they know how it feels. They're going all the way next year."
"I'm missing [Jim] Palmer and Brooks [Robinson], but I hope to get them next year at Cooperstown," Day said. She has taken part in every Hall of Fame induction ceremony since 1995, when she accepted the plaque for her husband with a heartfelt speech that moved the crowd.
Leon Day played 10 years in the Negro National League — a right-hander who won about 300 games while defeating the more-celebrated Satchel Paige three of the four times they met.
Born in Alexandria, Va., Day moved with his family to Baltimore and attended Douglass High School. He began his career in 1934 with the Baltimore Black Sox, then starred eight years for the Newark (N.J.) Eagles while pitching in a record seven Negro League All-Star Games.
He went undefeated (13-0) in 1937. Five years later, Day — known for his no wind-up delivery — struck out 18 batters in a one-hit victory over the Baltimore Elite Giants. Quiet and unassuming, he'd retired from baseball and was tending bar in Newark in 1960 when Geraldine Ingram walked in the door.
He was 44; she was half his age.
"I liked that he was no young punk," she said. "Leon was old school. He knew how to treat a lady, which was what I was looking for in a man."
"I approached him and said, 'Why do you keep looking at me from the bar and not saying anything?' So he asked my name and took me to dinner across town at a restaurant where all the oldtimey baseball players went. As we walked in, one of them said, 'Hey Leon, whose mother's crib did you done rob?' "
They married a year later, moved to Baltimore and embraced the Orioles — all the while hoping for the phone call from Cooperstown that finally came.
In March 2014, Day attended the opening of the black baseball museum in the Owings Mills branch of the Baltimore County Public Library.
"When she got off the elevator on the third floor, there in front of her was a 12-foot tall photo of Leon,"
Banks said. "Well, Geraldine almost had a heart attack.
"The lady loved him, and she really knows baseball. She could watch it eight days a week. If you put four or five TVs in one room, each with a different game going on, she'd be in heaven."