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Parasiliti: Schaefer came to bat so fans could cheer in Maryland

April 24, 2011
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Maryland lives for its sports heroes.

The legends of Ripken, Murray and Palmer continue to grow. So do stories about Unitas, Moore and Donovan.

On the college level, Boomer and Bias, White and Elmore will always be part of Terrapins lore.

Nowadays, Roberts and Lewis, Wieters and Rice, along with Markakis and Flacco are often subjects for hot discussions.

One other name wouldn’t be included on the list above, but it was oh-so-influential to shaping Maryland’s sports history.

That name is William Donald Schaefer.

Maryland sports lost one of its most rabid advocates when the former governor died last Monday at age 89.

Schaefer built his legacy by being the pebble dropped in the middle of a puddle named Baltimore.

For four terms, he led the charge to rebuild and revitalize his city, while using every opportunity to sing its praises.

The ripples spread across the state during his two terms as governor. He used his identity and salesmanship statewide to improve Maryland.

There are many photos of Schaefer, complete with props and his many expressions, to prove he was the state’s champion. No cause was trivial, nor was any photo opportunity.

Schaefer was the life of his party. Unlike athletes, his endorsements came from voters.

In July of 1993, Schaefer stopped in Hagerstown as part of a statewide crusade aimed at convincing the NFL to locate one of two expansion franchises in Baltimore.

He stumped for political and business support to prove there would be wide regional interest for a team in the Charm City.

Schaefer’s actions were chastised because of his Baltimore roots, but he had wide-reaching vision.

“If you can have museums and golf courses and baseball or football teams and concerts to go to, that just adds to the quality of life,” he said. “That just promotes the state.”

Quality of life. It is a three-word term that is often forgotten, even in this day, when it comes to civic progress.

It’s much easier to call improvements a waste of tax dollars instead of gauging if projects are an investment to add quality to citizens’ lives.

“The first thing prospective residents look at are the school systems and then higher education,” Schaefer said. “Then they look at the sports and recreational facilities. People look for things to do with their free time and that’s why we push for this so hard.”

Schaefer had fought this war before. He battled to build Baltimore’s Camden Yards and Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium. Nearly two decades later, both are still prime recreational destinations in Maryland.

Now Schaefer is gone and his “quality of life” battle will be waged without him. I thought about this day in the last paragraph of a July 25, 1993 column.

“Long after Schaefer is gone from office and the criticism has died down, Maryland will still need something to rally around. Maybe that will be the things that are good about life — nice facilities, the Orioles, a new professional football team and high-quality recreational escapes that will make living worthwhile.”

William Donald Schaefer would still be at the plate, bating for the cause. And because of him, we have great venues to watch the Ripkens and Robertses of the world bring some great joy into our lives.

Bob Parasiliti is a Herald-Mail sports writer. He can be contacted at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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