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Elrod and Tweedy left lasting impressions

December 27, 2005|By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

First impressions are supposed to be the ones that last.

Many swear by love at first sight or that they can tell all about someone's character by that first handshake.

As true as that may be, that makes the second meetings the ones that almost always cement any inklings from that first encounter.

Elrod Hendricks was one of those people whom you liked at first glance before loving and respecting him the second time around. He gave a great first impression and drove it home with his sincerity the second time around.

Hendricks, practically a lifelong Baltimore Oriole, died last Wednesday of a heart attack, the day before his 65th birthday. His was a heart that will continue to beat even in the days that it is now stilled.

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Hendricks could probably best be described as the ultimate chemistry player in all these years of being on the field and in the clubhouse for the Orioles.

He hit just .220 as a player while catching Baltimore's pitching during the Orioles' heyday, which included consecutive championship teams from 1969-71. He spent his time behind the plate and later as a coach in the O's bullpen. His impenetrable epoxy held Baltimore's pitching staffs together.

And with his first impressions, he held the O's fan base together as well.

I had the opportunity to meet Hendricks in 1988 when he joined then-new Baltimore manager Frank Robinson on the annual stop of the Orioles Caravan, a preseason public relations junket, in Hagerstown.

Hendricks was his usual personable self in that visit here, shaking hands and signing autographs while flashing his trademark smile.

He was the face of professional baseball that everyone wishes professional baseball would show at all times.

Still, Hendricks sealed himself as a man of character and sincerity the next season, when he returned to Hagerstown for another caravan.

The Orioles' van arrived just minutes after I had at the Four Points Sheraton. Robinson and Hendricks rushed out of the vehicle to get to the banquet room in time for the festivities.

I stood at the front door and showed them the hallway to the meeting place. Both men extended their hands to me and said, "Thanks, Bob. How are you doing? It's good to see you again."

That doesn't sound like much, but I realized that I wasn't wearing any identification badge or "Hello, My name is" sticker. It was the first time I had the opportunity to see either man in a year and despite all the interviews, press contacts and meeting and greeting of people and fans in the last 365 days, Hendricks - and Robinson - remembered me for some reason.

Hendricks sat down at his table and tried to do the same for every fan who came to see him on that day.

Hendricks didn't have to do the things he did. He did them because he wanted to, because he genuinely liked people, loved baseball and enjoyed being a part of the Baltimore Orioles. He went out of his way to make people feel special.

Hendricks may have batted .220 as a catcher, but he hit 1.000 as a person.

n And when it came to a love for baseball, I would be remiss to forget about John Ficken.

Hagerstown Suns' fans knew Ficken better as "Tweedy," the gravely voiced cheerleader/heckler who sat in the general admission seats behind home plate at Municipal Stadium.

Tweedy's first impression - especially if you were an opposing player or a first-time fan attending a game - wasn't always endearing.

He always carried a cup of a foamy beverage in his right hand and acted like he had a few too many long before the first pitch.

His screaming and yelling of "Two-out rally" or "Strike 'em out" were signatures to games and part of the character of a low Single A minor league game, where characters abound.

Fans either laughed or cringed at his antics.

Those cheers are a thing of the past now, since Tweedy passed away on Dec. 19.

I learned to accept and like that rough exterior over the years.

Underneath it all was a man who loved to have a good time, loved the Hagerstown Suns and was loyal to his team and his friends.

He'd often stop me to tell me he had read my latest Suns story, ask me questions about the team or the newspaper and finished by saying, "I love your writing, Bob."

And now, his rally call has been silenced.

Tweedy's first impression was one of those deceiving ones. Once you got past the crusty presentation, you realized he was an authentic, dyed-in-the-wool, all-American baseball fan.

And that made him an endangered species. There aren't many fans like Tweedy anymore.

So, so long Elrod and Tweedy. Baseball on Earth is going to miss you.

Neither of you will need to make any heavenly impressions where you will be watching games now.

That's because you punched your tickets here on Earth.




Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Morning Herald. His column appears every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2310, or by e-mail at bobp@herald-mail.com

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