Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More on the Orioles Holiday Party

As mentioned earlier, the blog was fortunate enough to attend the 29th annual Orioles Holiday Party, in its 3rd year at the ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor. Lots of pictures and video were taken, which I’m sure MD Orioles Fan will have up as quickly as possible. But now it’s my turn, to take you inside the event with words.

From the 90 students from George Washington Elementary School, to the ESPN Zone staff, to the Orioles present; a good time was genuinely had by everyone involved. Even the writers of this blog could not hide our grins when the “Rock and Roll Santa” came out singing, to the delight of the children. He instantly had the crowd on their feet, dancing, singing and cheering right along with him.

The event started off with a bang, as all the players were introduced by Jim Hunter to roaring cheers from the students, and a few of the adults. Every player was immediately put to work, serving various finger foods and sodas, joking around and signing autographs for each and every person. As the photographs show, the Orioles were relaxed and joking around, making sure they introduced themselves and spent some time with every table.

As apparently occurs every year, the star of the party was not one of the Orioles legends from the past, or a current star of today, but rather the Oriole Bird, busy prancing around in his Santa suit, lifting kids out of their chairs, and leading raucous chants of “Bird! Bird! Bird!” repeatedly.

After lunch, when the students had eaten their fill, it was off to the races. Upstairs, everywhere we turned, Orioles players were challenging the kids – and each other – to various arcade games, along with being led to and from the different games by the students.

Brian Roberts stayed busy cheering on kids at various car-racing set ups and challenging Jeremy Guthrie’s skills at the popular basketball ‘Pop-a-shot.’ When not busy watching their teammates, Jay Gibbons could be seen throwing a football, kicking a soccer ball and taking on challenges at the foosball table while Jamie Walker could be heard asking people to race him on the ‘Super GT’ simulator, and trying to help children try to work other games.

Due to time restraints and the fact that the Orioles were having fun following the kids around to different games, we were only able to speak with three current Orioles, but the conversations we had with them were great, and we really do appreciate the Orioles organization and the players allowing us to do so.

Jamie Walker was the first player we spoke with, and keeping with the theme of community events, we discussed his work with the US Army Relief Fund. As he explained, the fund gives money to families with 3 or 4 kids when one of the parents is called into active duty and half of the income they are used to living off of disappears. Jamie’s involvement with the program began several years ago, when a close friend of his, a Corporal Major in the 1st Gulf War, developed cancer and was one of the first people to try experimental drugs. When his friend passed away, “instead of wasting money on flowers,” he wanted people to make a donation to the US Army Relief Fund. Jamie has turned to his profession to help raise money in memory of his friend, for each relief appearance, and each strike out, Jamie donates $200, and because he appears in more games than he strikes people out, this allows him to make sure he gives as much as he can. Jamie also shared that he understood that everyone has their own charity, and their own cause, but he hopes more people will donate to a cause that supports the Vets, “because if there were no vets, I obviously would be able to do what I do, and people in general wouldn’t be able to.”

In talking with Jamie, it was clear he enjoyed helping out with a great cause, and in the midst of our interview, he was actually interrupted by a young girl he’d attempted to help fix a game for earlier. It was great to see how younger kids really treat the players like ordinary people and how Jamie apologized when he said he wasn’t sure how the game really did work. Before he sat down to answer questions, he asked one of his own – if this writer had gone to any games last season by the bullpen. When I confirmed his suspicions, he “knew he’s seen me before. How can I help you?” The comment immediately put me at ease, and I had a great time getting to talk to him.

Brian Roberts and Jeremy Guthrie also took some time to speak with us for a few minutes, after catching their breath from the different games they had just finished.

Brian, polite and genuine as always, introduced himself before we began discussing his work with various charities and community events, and as we spoke, his eyes lit up as he explained how he loves being around kids, and loves kids in general.

He commented that he knows not everyone is blessed with not only what he has now, but the support he had growing up and he wants to help share it when he can. When asked if any event meant more to him than another, he shook his head and explained that every situation and every child is unique and these different circumstances make each event special. Some kids might not be able to celebrate the holidays or eat this well at home, so it is fun to be involved and help make it more special. Brian did add that because of what he went through as a child, the visits to the children hospital will always be the closest to his heart, but at the same time is one of the hardest things to witness.

Jeremy is another genuine player, after spending just a minute or two with him, we could tell he truly felt every word he said, and meant it all. After the serious tones of the interviews with Jamie and Brian, we took a more light-hearted approach with Jeremy, taking his love for the ESPN Zone into consideration.

After explaining how his first year in Baltimore was a blessing and a dream come true to be able to join a starting rotation in the big leagues and given this opportunity he had a lot of fun; Jeremy revealed how he discovered Baltimore’s ESPN Zone – walking around downtown when they first landed here in April. He then explained he made it a point to come at least once a week, if not more throughout the season. And when asked how he got to be so good at the basketball games? “Lots of quarters went into the Pop-a-shot when I was younger. Lots of quarters and practice.”

As the games were winding down at that point, we let Jeremy go, thanking him once again for talking to us, and made our way down to see Santa take pictures with the kids as the Oriole players handed out wrapped board-games and the Dugout Club kits. The images of Rick Dempsey dancing and singing several holiday classics while dressed up in a Santa suit was a sight to see, and kept the energy going until the last minutes.

We at the blog had an amazing time, and want to once again thank the Orioles organization for allowing us to cover the event, and share it with the public. More pictures and videos are on their way.

As always, any comments can be left here or sent to my email : BMSequestrian@yahoo.com


>>> To View Photos and a Video From the Event, Click Here...

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