Birdland loses a great O’s fan

This is the story of someone we lost too soon. But it’s much more than that. It’s about someone that was a great friend to many and impacted many lives, including mine when we were college classmates at Towson University, then known as Towson State University, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Brice Marden Freeman died from pancreatic cancer on April 10. He was 60. He made it to opening day this year, but after bravely battling this disease for about 18 months, he passed away early on this baseball season.

Brice-Drinking-Beer-at-Memorial-Stadium-Sidebar.jpgBrice was a huge Orioles fan. But that sentence doesn’t do it justice. Brice loved the Orioles and always believed that better days were ahead during down years and rarely lost hope they would win, even when they were four or five runs down in the eighth or ninth.

At a memorial service in June, Brice’s wife, Bonnie, put out all his signed cards, pictures, bobbleheads, t-shirts and other memorabilia on a very large table. She wanted Brice’s friends to take something to remember both him and his love of baseball.

In February I was going to join Brice and a few friends on a Zoom to talk about his beloved Orioles. I was really looking forward to seeing him, even in his weakened state. Sadly, things had progressed pretty far at that time and Brice couldn’t make it on the call.

I first met Brice at Towson State at the student-run radio station, WCVT. I was trying to learn about sportscasting and sports reporting and he was the program director. I remember Brice as warm and friendly and with a maturity level much different from most of his classmates. He had a way about dealing with people and you could talk to him about anything and feel that you encountered someone much older with a lot of wisdom and experience. He provided me with a lot of great advice and guidance often through those years.

While I had seen Brice sparingly since college, I never forgot the patience he had with this young kid who wanted to get on the radio and discuss sports. He seemed like this wise-old head. Came to realize upon his passing he was younger than I was. Sure didn’t seem so.

I recently talked about Brice’s life, and particularly his love of the Orioles, with two of his best friends, Pete Wenner, who knew him since their childhood days in 1973, and Doug Albright, another sports guy at the Towson radio station from back in the day. He met Brice there in 1977. And another close friend, Jeff Dugan, at my request, sent along some thoughts as well.

Brice-and-Buddies-at-Game-Sidebar.jpg“The last time I spoke to him, we talked mostly about the Orioles,” said Wenner. “Whenever I spoke to him after he got diagnosed, I’d ask how he was doing and he’d unselfishly reply, ‘How are you doing?’ He would quickly update me on his condition but after that it was, ‘Hey let’s talk about the Orioles.’ We went on for about an hour and a half.”

For almost 25 years, Brice, Wenner, Albright and another friend, Tom Molinaro, took annual baseball trips around the country, sometimes to see the Orioles and sometimes to just get out to experience other places and ballparks. Of the 20-plus ballparks and venues they saw together, their favorite trips were to San Diego (their last trip in 2019), Boston, Kansas City, Seattle and Cooperstown, where they saw Cal Ripken Jr. inducted in 2007.

Wrigley Field was a particular Brice favorite and they made several trips there. Wenner, Albright and Molinaro will head there in a couple of weeks for another trip. This time without their dear friend, but it’s fitting that they’ll take time to remember him at one of his favorite parks.

“A lot of times we would watch entire games together,” said Albright. “The Orioles have done a lot of losing in the last 20 years. But Brice would always say the same thing. It could be 5-1 in the eighth and the Orioles would get a two-out hit and he’d say to me, ‘Good game to win.’ Whether we were at the game or sitting on the sofa watching, he always believed. And that was his phrase every time, ‘Good game to win.’ That was really indicative of his optimism about the Orioles.

“He went down to the last days wanting to talk about the Orioles. That was something that gave him energy. We hadn’t planned anything definite, but we were talking about still doing a baseball trip this year. We obviously would have scaled it down around him, and he was all in on that. We had bought our season tickets together. He looked at those goals as ‘good games to win’ in the same way he looked at the Orioles. He never gave up faith that he would be going to ballgames this year.”

Added Wenner: “Yeah, he said, ‘Even if I have to be in a wheelchair, I’ll go.’”

Back before online fantasy leagues became the rage, Brice loved to play Strat-O-Matic baseball. Albright said the two of them had their own version of analytics, as they’d place point values on individual player cards. Brice was a fierce competitor and would get upset about losing games, and one particular story was retold at a memorial service in June.

“His friend Greg Ricas told a great story about a Kevin Mitchell Strat-O-Matic card,” said Albright. “They were playing at Brice’s house one night in Canton in a second-floor room. And Brice got so angry he threw his cards out the window. They had to go down to the street and find them all. The Kevin Mitchell card had wedged itself on top of a tire of a parked car underneath the wheel well. So, he brought that card with him to the memorial service.

“Brice and I spent hours and hours over the years in the ’80s and ’90s (playing that game). We would develop philosophies like what is the value of a walk versus a single. Bill James at that time said it had about 60 percent of the value. We looked at all those things and developed a numerical system to rank the Strat-O-Matic cards. We would go through every card.”

And while all the times watching games, playing board games and talking about baseball were fun, some of the best times were spent at Brice’s favorite place: 33rd Street. He and his friends would often sit in general admission seats in upper deck section 10 at Memorial Stadium. Long before cell phones and texting, the friends knew if any of them had gone to the game that night, check section 10 and you would find the group there.

“Brice was the biggest Orioles fan I know,” said Dugan. “He was a big stocky guy, and maybe that is why his favorite player was another big man, Boog Powell. Many nights in section 10 he taught me how to watch a game. Is the infield shaded to left? Will the runner go?

“For the last 10 years of his life we played poker once a month, and a group of friends would go away on poker weekends twice a year. But in the fall, we always had to plan around the possibility of the Orioles being in the playoffs. Brice would just not miss that. He was one of a kind and I’ll miss him.”

“Of all the ballparks we saw, our favorite was always Memorial Stadium. We really felt at home there,” said Albright.

“We really did,” said Wenner. “Now that I have it, my most cherished piece of Brice’s memorabilia is his miniature replica Memorial Stadium with exacting detail. He had at least 10 MLB stadiums in his man cave. Of all the signed baseballs and great sports photos he had displayed in the room, that is easily my favorite.”

RIP to our friend Brice and thanks, buddy, for the guidance, caring and your friendship at Towson State and beyond.

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