SARASOTA, Fla. - The Orioles will play their first exhibition game today with heavy hearts, the loss of a beloved member of the organization bringing great pain to all of us.
Monica Pence Barlow, the club's director of public relations, passed away early this morning after a long and courageous battle with cancer. She was 36.
She also was a fighter - tougher than anyone I've known. Diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in September 2009, she leaned heavily on her faith while enduring rounds of chemotherapy, experimental procedures and the invasion of privacy that comes with being a public figure.
Anyone who knew Monica would say the same thing: "Being around her, you'd never know she was sick." That's because she went to the gym every day, worked long hours in the warehouse and on road trips, functioned as if she was in the best of health. She still laughed easily and felt blessed every day to be around family and friends.
Feel sorry for her? She wouldn't allow it. Treat her differently because of the disease? Strictly forbidden. She never made it down to spring training, and she never wanted your pity.
I've known Monica since she interned with the Orioles in 1999 after graduating from William and Mary. She spent a year as a PR assistant with the Richmond Braves, formerly the Atlanta Braves' Triple-A affiliate, before returning to the organization in the same capacity in January 2001. She was promoted to director of public relations in April 2008.
We collected enough inside jokes over the years to last us a lifetime. I'm just devastated that her time here was so brief. The laughs weren't supposed to be silenced. Not yet.
I didn't need another reminder that life is unfair.
Monica was a spokesperson for LUNGevity Foundation, the nation's largest lung cancer-focused nonprofit. LUNGevity funds the most promising research for the early detection and successful treatment of lung cancer, and provides information, resources and a community to patients and caregivers. To learn more, go to: www.lungevity.org.
I was honored to be part of Team Barlow for the annual walks - in D.C. and last year at Camden Yards.
Monica can tell her story much better than me. Please take the time to read more about her fight here.
Monica leaves behind her parents, Wayne and Ramona; a loving and devoted husband, Ben; a brother, Jonah; a sister, Natalie; and enough friends and admirers to fill two ballparks.
Whenever someone would ask, "Why you?," Monica would reply, "Why not?"
Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
God bless you, Monica.
Update: Orioles manager Buck Showalter broke the news to his players in the clubhouse before driving to Port Charlotte.
Showalter tried to say a few words about Monica while meeting with reporters a few minutes ago, but he choked up and asked that we wait until after the game.
"I tried to text her every night before I went to bed," Showalter said. "Today was the first time I didn't get a returned one."
Showalter turned away as tears filled our eyes. The session was over. None of us wanted to continue.
Update II: Orioles managing partner Peter Angelos has issued the following statement on the death of Barlow:
"It was with deep sadness that I learned of Monica's passing this morning. In her 14 years with the club, she was a beloved member of the Orioles family, starting as an intern and becoming Director of Public Relations. Over the past four and a half years, the work Monica did to raise awareness and funds for cancer research was a testament to her dedication to helping others. The strength and resiliency she displayed by not letting her illness define her was a great inspiration to all who knew her. Her loss will be felt deeply by not only our front office staff, but also our manager, players and coaches, with whom she worked on a daily basis. On behalf of the club, I extend my condolences to her husband, Ben; her parents, Wayne and Ramona Pence; her brother, Jonah; her sister, Natalie; and her family and friends."
Update III: The Orioles provided the following quote from Showalter:
"We lost a feather from the Oriole today. Monica embodied everything we strive to be about. Her passion, loyalty, and tenacity set a great example for everyone in the organization. She was so courageous in continuing to do her job the last few years despite her pain. This is an especially tough day for those of us that worked with her on a daily basis. It was a blessing to have her in my life; she made our jobs so much easier. We won't be able to replace Monica, we will only try to carry on. I am going to miss her as a colleague and a friend. She was a rock."