Buck Showalter still picks up the phone to call his mom. It's a habit he developed over decades of missed birthdays, family events and other holidays that passed with him in some dugout somewhere far, far away.
Lina Carrie Spires Showalter is not there to answer anymore, but she has never been far out of mind as the first Mother's Day approached since she died on the final weekend of the baseball season last October.
"I think about her every day," Buck said. "I can't tell you how many times I've picked up the phone to call her. She lived and died with everything we did. Maybe that's too strong. She took a lot of pride in how the Orioles were doing. That was a big thing at the house. Everybody knew at 6:45, 15 minutes before the game, you had to be inside the house sitting down. Everybody was welcome, but at 7 o'clock, you weren't getting in the house."
No doubt, it was the same when Buck managed in New York or Phoenix or Arlington, Texas, but his mom seemed to sense that something special had developed in Baltimore. She often told Buck that she wanted to meet Orioles owner Peter Angelos because she wanted to talk to the owner who finally "got" him.
The Orioles will celebrate Mother's Day with an infinity scarf giveaway Sunday and team members will wear special baseball shoes that were created specifically by Under Armour for the occasion.
They look ridiculous, by the way — awash in brightly colored flowers, which wouldn't normally be in Buck's wheelhouse — but he will wear them and autograph them and they will be auctioned for charity. So, it's all good even if it's slightly embarrassing.
"I'm looking at these shoes they want me to wear and I said, 'I don't really need to wear a pair of pink, flowered shoes to show everybody I loved my mother and it's Mother's Day and I remember her,'" he said. "Then they tell me it's for a great cause and they're going to auction them, so I'm going to wear them for one inning, but she'd be abhorred if she knew I was wearing these silly shoes for her."
He knows better, of course. Lina Showalter would not be abhorred, if that's even a word, by anything her only son does on a baseball field, as long as it reflects the strong rural values that were instilled in Buck and his three sisters by their parents.
Their father, Bill Showalter, was a high school principal in Century, Fla., which is just a few miles down Highway 29 from the Alabama border and less than an hour north of Pensacola. Lina Showalter was the director of nurses at a small hospital in the area.
The kids grew up during a tumultuous time in the deep south, but Buck speaks reverently of how his father endangered his career by standing with striking teachers and then accepted the principal job at the former African-American high school when integration came to their small town.
"He took the job at the black [high] school that became the middle school when they integrated Century High School," Buck said. "They came to my dad to take over that school, and the first thing we did that Sunday was he got the whole family and we went to the black church. He ended up hiring the preacher — Reverend Carter — as his guidance counselor."
Lina Showalter had no patience for bigotry and made it pretty clear that it would not be tolerated in her home.
"I think about the example she and they set for me from a racial standpoint," Buck said. "If you sat at her table and even hinted at something racial, oh my God. They were so far ahead of their time with that stuff and it impacted a lot of kids through the years."
When Buck talks about his parents, it quickly becomes apparent where a lot of his managerial philosophy was incubated. When he talks about an underrated young player and cautions that you shouldn't "overlook an orchid while you're looking for a rose," you can almost hear his mother saying it.
When he talks about a clubhouse issue and says "it's important to me because it's important to them," he'll be the first to acknowledge he developed that attitude at his mother's knee.
"She always had time for everybody," he said. "She never rushed through anything when she was dealing with somebody. She always had the ability to make somebody she was talking to feel like they were the only person in the room. If somebody thought it was important enough to bring it to her, she would stop everything."
Everybody in town knew his mom, and it's not surprising. Forty years after Buck graduated from high school, Century still boasts only about 1,700 residents. Buck often refers to it as Mayberry, the fictional town in his all-time favorite sitcom, "The Andy Griffith Show."
"When you think about impact, it was a small town and she was like the doctor," he said. "Everybody came to her to talk about their medical issues. Anybody who wanted to carry that end of the county in a political race or whatever, you had to go sit on the porch at Mrs. Showalter's house to get her stamp of approval. The county police would stop at our house to get a cup of coffee."
Buck laughs at the time one of those county policemen pulled Mrs. Showalter over when she was rushing to the hospital to help with a medical emergency.
"She rolled down her window and said, 'John, if you've got something that's really important to talk to me about, come up to the hospital to talk to me because I've got something up at the hospital, or you can come to the house,'" Buck remembers. "She was going 50 in a 30 or something, and she said, 'I've got something I've got to do,' and she rolled up her window and just drove off."
She and her husband were tough when they needed to be, but Buck said that no one in the family ever doubted their love and support, whether it was following him around the Florida amateur baseball circuit or getting his sisters through college on a tight budget.
"I think what hit me, my dad got a lot of notoriety and stuff, but the backbone of the whole thing was her," Buck said. "She was so consistent. She was constantly telling us right from wrong, but she understood there were gray areas sometimes. Not everything was black and white. There were circumstances to everything."
If Buck was most often somewhere else during his mother's later years, he said he always tried to carve out as much time as he could to stay in touch. Now, he can't help reflexively reaching for the phone.
"I tried to call her and never be in a hurry, which was hard," he said. "She, like a lot of people, didn't like to be rushed, so I can't tell you how many times on the way home from the ballpark I would just call her and let her talk. She would always come up with some words of wisdom that kind of put things in perspective, so I miss that."