When we consider “power” in baseball, it usually involves a Ruthian swing and that special sound off the bat. Or it could mean a sizzling fastball nearing triple digits that pounds the catcher’s mitt. The power I’m thinking of is much more understated, more subtle, and plays out over time.
I wanted to treat my father-in-law to baseball, which he loved all his life. What I didn’t count on when we got to our seats for the first time were the folks surrounding us just beyond first base at the Harrisburg Senators ballpark on City Island. We all became fast friends. After a season or two, we became more like a family — a family brought together through the power of baseball.
What became “our section” was lost to the park upgrades a decade ago or more. However, our group of fans became so close that we all decided we wanted to move to the same new section so we could continue to sit together.
One of those fans was Barb Thomas. Although “fanatic” isn’t strong enough a word to describe Barb’s love for the Senators.
I mean, who else remains in her seat through blistering cold winds, torrential downpours, and searing heat? Who else, upon retirement, drives to Spring Training and stays at the players’ hotel for a month? Who else has been to every Eastern League ballpark multiple times … including some no longer used by Eastern League teams?
She even hosted a player in her home. That player and his wife kept in touch with Barb since that unique season. And, yes, Barb was there for Milton Bradley’s rainy walk-off grand slam to bring a fourth consecutive EL championship to Harrisburg in 1999.
Barb wasn’t at the game to predict a 3-2 slider or second guess a decision. Barb loved the Senators as people. She cheered their successes and offered standing ovations for home runs and victories.
More so, Barb became everyone’s friend. Staunchly independent, Barb could make everyone feel welcome in any situation. She got to know many of those players during spring training. She became friends with a Washington Nationals usher and visited with her whenever we took in a game at Nats Park.
Barb had a smile for everyone. She always reminded me of the Colonel Potter line from M*A*S*H: Barb had a drawer full of them. And she was great at letting you borrow one whenever you needed it.
Her soft-spoken demeanor never changed. In the two decades I knew Barb, she never raised her voice nor spoke negatively about anyone.
I could show up at the ballpark stressed over a project or traffic, and Barb could easily make me forget about whatever it was. She had the same calming effect over Senators Fan Club business. I would pick up Barb to attend a meeting with a thousand loose ends on my mind. By the time we arrived, everything seemed better.
Over the years, Barb became a regular guest at our home whenever Mindy made spaghetti, Barb’s favorite dinner. She would always arrive in a red top (very practical) with a bouquet of flowers for the table (very appreciative).
She also became a regular at our family birthdays, holidays (whenever she wasn’t visiting her family), ABC Mug Club events, and sometimes just a relaxing dinner with friends.
Barb’s social calendar never seemed to pump the brakes. She enjoyed bus trips, former work friends, family events in Pittsburgh, Penn State home games, and Senators road series to the far reaches of the Eastern League. Barb would cheerfully participate wherever her calendar took her.
That was the way Barb was. She could brighten any situation without any effort. That was just her nature.
Section 105 isn’t the same without Barb. She was so woven into our baseball and friendship landscape that we weren’t ready to let go. I’m thankful that we’ve gotten to know her family and that we have so many fond memories. As Barb would have wanted, we laughed much more than shed tears at her visitation.
As we toasted an empty pint glass at last Monday’s Mug Club gathering, here’s to you, Barb. Through the power of the baseball diamond, thank you for letting us into your circle.