One pitch for Orioles fan, usher Charlie Zill

SportsBaseballOriole Park at Camden YardsLung Cancer

Charlie Zill got his wish — and then some.

The long-time usher at Camden Yards, who has stage 4 lung cancer, watched his beloved Orioles play one more time Wednesday night.

Wearing an Orioles cap and jersey over his trademark "Zillbilly" overalls, he also threw out the first pitch from his wheelchair to new Orioles pitcher T.J. McFarland.

"Sinkerball," Zill said in a weak voice of the pitch that was low and away and drew a nice ovation from the crowd. "Incredible. I didn't think this was going to happen."

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun last month, the section 244 fixture who entertained fans with his "Zillbilly" dance to John Denver's "Country Boy" during the seventh-inning stretch, had expressed a desire to see at least one more Orioles game this spring.

At the time, though, he had stopped taking chemotherapy and was getting progressively weaker, to the point where he was evaluated for hospice care.

"If a miracle comes along," he said back then, "I will return. It's got to be a miracle, because I'm not being treated now."

Zill's cancer was diagnosed three and a half years ago, when doctors gave him less than a year to live.

But there he was last night in a club level suite as a guest of the Orioles, along with his wife, Trudy, his sons Daniel and John, and some 20 family members and friends.

Arriving from his Red Lion, Pa., home in a private ambulance minutes before game-time, the 55-year-old Zill accepted handshakes, hugs and kisses from well-wishers and fellow ushers as he made his way to the field.

Only then was he told by his social worker, Leonard Segal, that he was scheduled to throw out the first pitch.

"His eyes widened," Segal said. "This was his wish, this game."

Zill, who started working as an usher in 1995, introduced his "Zillbilly" act to fans a few years later.

A professional magician since his youth in Baltimore, he soon began doing magic tricks between innings or during pitching changes and rain delays.

Most of his tricks had baseball themes. A favorite involved taking orange and black paper, tearing it into strips, sprinkling the strips with "magic dust" and turning them into Orioles' floppy hats.

"I love making people smile," he told The Sun last month. "Always have."

The self-professed born showman milked the first pitch last night from beginning to end.

Inserting his fake "Zillbilly" teeth, he doffed his cap and waved it to the crowd before firing the ball to McFarland and giving the crowd the "thumbs-up" sign.

And during the seventh-inning stretch, the video board showed him twirling his signature red fiddle, waving to the crowd and mugging for the cameras one more time from the balcony of his club-level suite.

"Being with all the fans," he said, "it just gives me goosebumps."

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kevincowherdsun

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      Tears filled my eyes as I read Kevin Cowherd's column this morning about the illness of Charlie Zill or Zillbilly, the "country boy" usher at Camden Yards ("Cancer-stricken 'Zillbilly' usher hopes to see 1 or 2 more games," March 18).

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