Gold lamé jacket embossed with PIRATES, barely perceptible across the glitzy material. Green and yellow baseball cap with As on the front. Thumb stuck out, along the main street of St. Michaels.
He needed transportation; I had plenty of room; I obliged.
“Barton Pittman is my name,” he said as he climbed into my pick-up one sunny spring morning this week. “Everyone knows me.”
Barton wore his mask carefully. It muffled his words. I asked him to repeat himself several times. His stories were interesting. I wanted to hear..
“Have you been vaccinated?”
“No. They say I’m not old enough.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. “Everybody’s getting vaccinated now. Just go and do it.”
“Is it free?”
“Yeah man, it’s free.”
He nodded, looking out the front window.
For the next 25 minutes, driving toward WalMart in Easton where he was headed to buy medication, Barton regaled me with wonderful stories. Baseball, rock and roll, and literary celebrities, and the ups and downs of his 62 years.
Who doesn’t like good stories? Stories mark us as human beings. We love to tell them; we love to hear them. An important part of us being beings.
“Medication’s going to cost me $8 but I don’t have any money,” he said.
“Me neither,” I said, touching my pocket, knowing it was empty. “If I had it I’d give it to you. But I can get you to WalMart.”
“Don’t worry about the money,” he said. “Money’s always found its way to me when I needed it.”
Barton talked about Harold Baines, the St. Michaels native, resident and hometown hero who enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as a major league baseball player.
“He’s my cousin. We played ball together growing up here. Pony League. 13-15 year olds. Harold played for the American Legion team. I played for Kiwanis. We made it to the playoffs one year, up in Pennsylvania, and I pitched against Dwight Goodin. He beat me four to two. I was 185 pounds, better than six feet, all muscle. Could throw 90 mile an hour fastballs.
“My mother and grandmother fed me grits and molasses to put weight on me.”
While Baines’ career soared, batting and fielding his way up through the minors to the majors, an injury ended Barton’s baseball prospects. “Messed up my ankle playing basketball. That was that.”
But during his pitching days, Barton said, baseball greats came to scout him. Bill Veeck [‘As in Wreck’] of the Chicago White Sox organization. He owned a farm near Easton. Danny Murtaugh of the Pirates. Red Schoendienst of the Cardinals. Charley Finley of the Oakland As.
Baseball enchanted Barton. “I always wanted to meet Connie Mack but I never did. He was a great man.”
Talk of grits and molasses took us to Barton’s mother. “Dororthy Pittman. She cooked for James Michener when he was living here, writing his book about the Chesapeake. He loved her and put her name in the front of the book, in the acknowledgements.”
Barton’s years flashed by in no particular order as we motored toward Easton. Stints as a printer for different companies in Washington D.C. Problems with drugs. Problems with holding jobs. A few years in the state mental health institution in Cambridge, overlooking the Choptank, long before it was converted to the Hyatt golf and marina resort.
The stories next found him in a bus station in St. Louis, another great baseball town. “Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band picked me up there in a new white Cadillac. Cher. I remember trimming all these vines off a big old red brick house where he lived in St. Louis. Duane came over one day to borrow choppers to trim some branches. They were good guys. Greg used to come down to Tilghman, to Buddy’s, to fish and party.”
“Duane could sure play a guitar,” I said.
“Sure could,” said Barton.
“You said Buddy. Buddy Harrison at the Harrison House?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
We made the WalMart parking lot sooner than I would have wished. Barton had more stories to tell and I wanted to hear them but we both had other matters to attend to.
“You come by and see me some time on Dodson Street. That’s where I live. On property my mother left me. Greg helped me build a new house there. It’s real nice.”
“I sure will Barton,” I said as we shook hands and parted.
And I will. Sooner than later.
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.