Sports Law Blog
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Sunday, September 16, 2007
A Life Well Lived or Fathers, Daughters, and Baseball
Please allow me to get personal for a few moments.
Dr. Martin D. Abeloff died last week, at the age of 65. Marty was a nationally prominent oncologist, director of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University Medical School, long-time faculty member at Hopkins, and former president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. He leaves behind his wife of 40 years; two beautiful, brilliant, and successful daughters (one of whom somehow consented to marry the author); two sons-in-law; three amazing grandchildren (I have a special affection for the youngest of the three); and a big sister. I only had the fortune to know Marty for about seven years, but I am a better person for having entered his orbit even for such a short time. I never heard anyone speak an unkind word of him and the outpouring of emotion since his passing has been overwhelming. He was the most impressive person I have had the pleasure to know. And through it all, he remained the nicest, friendliest, humblest man I ever encountered. If I can be the type of person who makes half as much of an impact on those around me, personally and professionally, I will consider my life a success.
So what’s it got to do with baseball? Well, for starters, Marty was a huge sports fan. He grew up taking day trips from his small Pennsylvania coal-mining town to Philadelphia to watch the Phillies play at Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium. He played on his high school basketball team (he liked to say he earned his spot because you cannot teach 6’4”). He played a regular weekly tennis game for many years—although his wife always was a better player. He became an Orioles fan when he moved to Baltimore for medical school and lived there for all three of the team’s World Series victories. He got to see Hopkins win one last national championship in men's lacrosse last spring. He lost interest in football when the Colts skipped town on that snowy winter’s night, although he came back to it when the Ravens moved in (occasional luxury-box tickets will do that for you). He recently had given up on the Orioles, as Peter Angelos systematically dismantled one of the great organizations in sports. But to the end, he could sit and watch baseball and tennis on television. I think he was glad his daughter brought me onto the scene just so he had someone else with whom to talk sports.
More importantly for my purposes, Marty raised a genuine sports fan. Since I am a certified sports nut, this is one of the things that first attracted me to my future wife. She grew up watching baseball. She knew how to keep score. She learned how to watch and talk about the game. She learned that sometimes you root not for the superstar, but for the schlepper—her favorite player on the 1983 World Series Champion Orioles was not future Hall-of-Famers Cal Ripken, Jim Palmer, or Eddie Murray, but catcher Rick Dempsey. She could watch the 2007 Wimbledon Finals and explain to our otherwise-disinterested six-year-old niece why she should root for the “guy with short hair” over the “guy with long hair.” Perhaps Marty did not push hard enough when my wife wanted to play little league, but things were just different enough in 1981. But she learned to play tennis well enough to be a Baltimore City high school doubles champion (which, unfortunately, sounds more impressive than it actually was) and Marty never missed a match.
I think one story captures the point of this homage. When my wife was in high school, she went with her boyfriend and one of his friends to an Orioles game at old Memorial Stadium (conveniently located across the street from their high school—students used to get half the day off on Opening Day). Her boyfriend was being kind of jerk—he and his buddy were ignoring her, talking between them and not including her, and being generally rude and obnoxious (he was, after all, a teen-age boy, although he was at our wedding and remains a friend to this day). So she left. When she got home and told her dad what happened, Marty picked up his car keys and they drove back to the Stadium. He bought two tickets from a scalper and Dad and daughter watched the game together from infield box seats. A dad can protect, or try to protect, his little girl from a lot of things. And, sometimes, baseball can be the means by which he does it.
Someday I will need to protect my daughter in a similar way, since it is inevitable that her high school boyfriend will be mean to her at some point. If I can do so well when my time comes, and if my solution involves baseball, then I will have done right by Marty’s granddaughter.