A side street flanked by classic, red-brick Baltimore row houses, in the Locust Point section of the city, just south of the inner harbor. A section of industry and working class people. A section that when the north wind blows, scents of furnace heat, sugar spiced here and there with tones of molasses and warm quilt, all blend and waft through the streets. They’re in the steam rising from the Domino Sugar factory and its glowing orange sign that lords over the harbor in the dark of night.
Small front yard with a patch of green grass. Black, white and brown dog, six or seven. Man and woman in their 70s; he’s tossing a rubber ball for the appreciative dog, a few feet here, a few feet there; the dog retrieves and places the ball at his feet; his wife sits on the white stone stoop, her black blouse and shorts soaking up the sun, watching the man and dog, watching the day go by.
Walking by on the sidewalk, I stop to chat, to have some simple human fun. I place a hand on the fence; the dog stops his game and eyes me warily with some curiosity mixed in, but no growling. He sees no threat, smells no threat.
Engaging the man and woman with my eyes, I make a statement to get things started.
“Somebody told me Justin Tucker lives in this area.”
Nobody really told me that but I thought it would be a fun way to start a dialogue. Justin Tucker is the place kicker for the Baltimore Ravens who last Sunday kicked an astounding, record-breaking 66-yard field goal in the last seconds of the game to beat the Lions of Detroit. People were jubilant, ecstatic even, but not surprised. Tucker is the best kicker in the National Football League, maybe the best kicker ever. A Baltimore hero.
He crosses himself before every field goal attempt. I’ve never asked him why he does that – religious of course – but never really got into the religious nitty gritty of it.
But I tell myself he’s not asking God to help the kick make its way through the uprights to score three points and win the game by two. Rather, I tell myself that Tucker is simply asking God to help him be the best he can be. Noble humility.
The woman laughs in an unbelievable sort of fashion.
“No,” she says, looking up and down the street as if to say Tucker wouldn’t live in these humble surroundings. “Justin Tucker doesn’t live around here.”
“Do you know who Justin Tucker is?”
“Who doesn’t?” she says. Celebrity.
She tells me the dog is a border collie. It waits patiently as the man holds the ball and looks the other way up the street. He’s still thinking celebrity – celebrity and sports. Baltimore loves its sports teams, especially baseball and football.
“Down there, on the corner, see those apartments? A friend or a relative of one of the Baltimore Orioles built those a while back. Can’t think of the Oriole’s name.”
“No it wasn’t Brooks. But you know something? Brooks was probably the best third baseman the Orioles ever had. Maybe the best third baseman ever. But guess what. He never made more than $50,000 in a year.”
The woman chuckled, maybe thinking about Justin Tucker, and what ritzy neighborhood he might live in. “These days that would be $50 million,” she said.
He chimed in again. “Brooks used to own a sporting goods store downtown. Every Christmas – during the holidays – he would be in the store, talking with people, that kind of thing. We would go down there, not necessarily to buy anything, but just to see Brooks, be around him.”
“And you know Johnny Unitas?”
Famous Baltimore Colts quarterback – hard-nosed, broken-nosed, flat-topped tough guy who led his team to championships.
“Yeah, Johnny Unitas,” he said. “You know what he did in the offseason? He sold paint. Went around to stores in the Baltimore area and sold paint to them for their customers. Paint salesman. He had to. Wasn’t making enough money playing football to feed his family. Things are a lot different now.”
The people I was with were blocks away by now, heading back to the harbor, back toward the scents of the Domino Sugar factory and its Orioles-orange night-time sign. I figured I better end this scene, though the sun-soaked conversation under a clear blue sky made me want to linger.
“Well, you folks have a nice day,” I said. “Nice chatting with you.”
“You too,” they both said, the dog still waiting patiently.
“Let us know if you find Justin Tucker,” the woman said with a smile.
“Sure will,” I said.
Dennis Forney grew up on the Chester River in Chestertown. After graduating Oberlin College, he returned to the Shore where he wrote for the Queen Anne’s Record Observer, the Bay Times, the Star Democrat, and the Watermen’s Gazette. He moved to Lewes, Delaware in 1975 with his wife Becky where they lived for 45 years, raising their family and enjoying the saltwater life. Forney and Trish Vernon founded the Cape Gazette, a community newspaper serving eastern Sussex County, in 1993, where he served as publisher until 2020. He continues to write for the Cape Gazette as publisher emeritus and expanded his Delmarva footprint in 2020 with a move to Bozman in Talbot County. Photos by Dennis Forney.