Diamond Dream

Snagging foul balls is part of the low-profile job. But what ball girl Amaris Little snagged June 30 brought the crowd at Camden Yards to its feet.

August 28, 2002|By Alexa James | Alexa James,SUN STAFF

Even if the talks between Major League Baseball players and owners fail, the strike deadline arrives, and the season comes to an early end this week, the Baltimore Orioles' No. 02 will have plenty of fond memories from this year at Camden Yards.

You might not even have noticed, especially with all the new players shuttling in and out of the lineup, but No. 02 is a regular in left or right field. She was last year, too. In the spring, the O's renewed her contract - for a whopping $7 an hour.

No. 02 is Amaris Little, 24, one of six ball girls at Camden Yards. If she had a baseball card, the scouting report would read something like this: A 5-foot-8, wholesome and perky right-hander with a steady glove, a powerful arm, a bright smile and great people skills. Her job: to snare foul balls before they escape to the outfield corners of Oriole Park.

It's also part of her job description to blend seamlessly into the atmosphere of Camden Yards: Ball girls are not supposed to draw attention to themselves. If she makes it onto SportsCenter, or even the JumboTron, it's most likely for a big fat blooper.

So a little earlier this season, when Little saw her name flashing on the JumboTron a third of the way through a tough game against the Philadelphia Phillies, her stomach made a line drive to her throat.

But maybe we're getting a little ahead of the story ...

Little, who is from Hancock in Washington County and is in dental school at the University of Maryland, began her ball-girl career midway through last season. A lifetime O's fan who played ball in junior college in Hagerstown, she beat out 124 candidates for one of three openings. That despite almost leaving the tryouts when she saw the competition. But she stayed; she at least wanted to set foot on the hallowed grounds of the Yard. Three weeks later, she got the call.

Little made it through her major league debut action-free, but by game two, the inevitable happened.

"I got a ball hit by Tony Batista, and it was pretty hard," Little said. She dove off the stool, lowered her glove and cringed. "And I looked, and it was in my glove," she said.

From that point on, it's been pretty much a routine. The majority of a ball girl's time is spent perched on a stool next to the first or third baseline walls, making small talk with fans in the first few rows. But when Little makes a catch, thousands of fans vie for her affection.

"Me! Me!" "Pleeeeeease!" "Hey, ball girl!" The hands shoot up, and the crowd lurches forward. Everyone wants a baseball that touched the bat that touched the hands of Tony Batista, Derek Jeter or Ichiro Suzuki. How does she pick the lucky fan?

As quickly as possible.

"After I get it, I look up and the first kid I see, I give it to them," Little said. "And the adults that really get on me, I tell them they need to go to batting practice."

Last season, one ball-hungry adult offered her $1,000 for a Cal Ripken Jr. ball. "Can you imagine?" Little said. "I was so hoping a Cal Ripken ball did not come my way."

Little is expected to behave like a Camden Yards solid citizen. She's been bribed, harassed and hit on, but always manages to keep her cool. She grins in the face of obnoxious New York Yankees fans and resists the smell of Boog's Barbecue.

She sits on her stool for at least nine innings, watching every pitch that crosses the plate. She doesn't even get a bathroom break. Most importantly, she is expected never, never to commit the ultimate sin: interfering with a ball in play.

Ask her if she's ever fielded a fair ball, and Little immediately knocks on wood before shaking her head. According to Camden Yards lore, the unthinkable happened about three years ago to another ball girl.

"She's still famous in the ball club," Little said. "I would rather get booed for missing a ball every day than for touching a fair ball."

That doesn't mean that ball girls don't get their share of the limelight, but usually in the shadow of visiting celebrities. Little has escorted soccer star Mia Hamm, Maryland basketball coach Gary Williams and former O's manager Johnny Oates to the pitcher's mound for ceremonial first pitches. But again, the girls are not supposed to draw attention to themselves

For Little, that rule was broken on Sunday, June 30, during the last game in a series against the Phillies. Little suddenly found herself the target of 43,429 pairs of eyes.

She was using the one-minute, 40-second break between the third and fourth innings to pass out stickers and cards when someone yelled, "Look, you're on the JumboTron." Little nodded and smiled. Sometimes the production guys who direct the Camden Yards cameras give the ball girls a little air time.

But then fans started chanting her name. Little looked at the JumboTron and saw "Amaris the Ball Girl" flashing on the screen. "What are the production guys doing?" she thought. "Now everyone knows my name!"

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