Stroke survivor on a mission to preserve Bambino's legacy

Baltimore man leading a five-day bike trip from Ruth's birthplace to Cooperstown

Stroke survivor on a mission to preserve Bambino's legacy

BALTIMORE -- A couple of dozen well-wishers gathered in front of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum on this balmy Baltimore Saturday morning to give local triathlete and recovering stroke victim Chris Conlon and his biking team a royal sendoff. They embarked on a more than 300-mile, five-day journey from Baltimore to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

A devoted Babe Ruth enthusiast who worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum, Conlon is on a mission to help turn the baseball field at the former St. Mary's Industrial School for Boys -- where Babe Ruth learned to play the game -- into a national park and historic landmark. Ruth attended St. Mary's from 1902-14, from the time he was 7 years old until he was signed by the Minor League Baltimore Orioles at the age of 18 in '14.

Conlon wants everyone to understand the significance of the time Ruth spent at St. Mary's, as it pertains to his baseball career.

"This journey is a very unique way of tangibly linking the Babe Ruth Birthplace with the Baseball Hall of Fame," said Michael Gibbons, executive director of the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum, adding, "It's also a five-day celebration of the fact that Babe Ruth, the game's greatest star, is a product of the blue-collar southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Pigtown, the place where he learned to play baseball."

Gibbons presented Conlon with an early 1970s vintage commemorative coin, minted in conjunction with the original effort to restore the Babe Ruth Birthplace, which will be delivered to the National Baseball Hall of Fame as a gift upon Conlon's arrival.

Conlon, 40, a former electrical engineer and part-time actor with numerous appearances on television programs filmed in and around Baltimore, suffered a stroke three years ago which inflicted him with aphasia, a brain disorder that has permanently altered his ability to speak.

A frequent marathon runner and triathlete before his stroke, Conlon's physical recovery has been remarkable. A rigid exercise regimen has been a major component of his rehabilitation.

"It's really cool to see how he's become such a good athlete all over again," said Conlon's friend Mike Licea, who will also be making the ride along with his father, Mike Sr.

"He's been inspirational to me," Licea added, "To see someone with his condition be so positive and goal oriented. He's obsessed with Babe Ruth, and he loves sports and physical activity."

Conlon's mother Renate says her son has always been a national park "fanatic," traveling across the country with a national parks passport.

"He wants to preserve that ballfield as a national historic landmark," said Renate Conlon. "His goal is to connect these two passions of his."

Historic Babe Ruth landmarks dot the Baltimore landscape.

On their way out of town, Conlon and his biking entourage rode to the Babe Ruth statue in front of the Eutaw Street entrance to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and continued past The Goddess, a gentleman's club located on the site of a saloon once owned by Babe Ruth's father in the early 1900s.

The Babe Ruth Birthplace at 216 Emory Street in Baltimore has long been a popular destination for visiting baseball fans in town to watch their teams play against the Orioles.

A tour of Babe Ruth's Baltimore might also include the ballfield at the former St. Mary's and Cardinal Gibbons schools (93225 Wilkens Ave.), as well as the Loudon Park (3620 Wilkens Ave.) and Holy Redeemer (4430 Bel Air Road) cemeteries, where Ruth's father and mother are buried, respectively. The Peabody Heights Brewery (401 E. 30th Street) is built on the former site of old Oriole Park, home of Baltimore's Minor League franchise from 1916-1944, where Ruth stopped to play barnstorming exhibition games on his way back from Spring Training.

Riding on side roads and byways from Baltimore to Cooperstown, Conlon and his team will average about 70 miles per day. They are scheduled to arrive at the Hall of Fame on June 1.

Charlie Vascellaro is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.