A month ago, Margaret Wicks, the principal at Hampstead Hill Middle School, received a message that Expedito "Pedro" Lugo wanted to speak to the students at the school in East Baltimore.
"He just wanted to say 'thank you' for their support and concern," Wicks says.
Yesterday, Lugo, who in May was severely beaten with his own baseball bat by teen-age assailants, got his chance. Lugo expressed his gratitude to about 500 students at the school, not far from the Patterson Park site where the attack occurred.
"Everything is better and getting better," said Lugo, 24.
Lugo, a native of the Dominican Republic, talked little of the assault. Instead, he spoke of feeling good, of the cards and letters from strangers that were overwhelming and greatly appreciated, of his dream to play baseball again.
"I think I might do that again," he said. "I want to do it again. Maybe after I get better I will."
Lugo received severe head injuries and brain damage from the attack, which resulted in paralysis on his right side and impaired his ability to speak and comprehend. For several weeks, Lugo was in a coma at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After he regained consciousness, he was transferred to the Montebello Rehabilitative Hospital for speech, recreational and physical therapy.
He now lives at home but takes therapy at Franklin Square Hospital four times a week.
A 19-year-old man and three younger teen-agers have been charged with first-degree attempted murder, assault and deadly weapons violations in the attack.
Carlos Lopez-Rodriguez, a family friend and spokesman, said Lugo has improved tremendously. Four months ago, doctors were unsure if Lugo was even going to live, much less walk, he said.
Lugo said he can walk without his wheelchair, but his doctors urge him to use it until his right side has regained full mobility.
At the ceremony, students read aloud recent letters. One urged Lugo to hurry his recovery so that "maybe I'll see you on the baseball field."
In another, James Reed wrote: "Every now and then, you would let us use your basketball to play. Although you could not speak English, we understood you. I hope you get well soon so that we can play again."
"My leg still shakes a little, too, but I feel good," Lugo told the students. Smiling, he spoke slowly, often using a Spanish translator.
"What do you call this?" he asked, placing his hand on his left shoulder. "Yes, my shoulder is stiff, too. But I am happy to be alive."