O's field young new talent - right next to the players

Fouls: Three rookie ballgirls and one new ballboy put their skills to the test during the team's home games.

April 12, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

With two outs and the game scoreless at the top of the second inning, Sarah Shaffer eyed a baseball rolling toward her. She scooped it up and handed it to a young Baltimore Orioles fan sitting in the stands beyond the third-base foul territory.

That evening, 18-year-old Shaffer shared the field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with players from the O's and Boston Red Sox.

Except her jersey read "Ballgirl 04."

"I was a little nervous at first," Shaffer said of her first major league baseball game Wednesday night. "The few that came to me didn't come really fast."

FOR THE RECORD - Former Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken Jr.'s name was misspelled in an article in some editions of yesterday's metro section.

Shaffer, of Manchester, wowed the judges at a recent tryout and was among four who emerged from a field of more than 100 competitors to become the newest Orioles ballgirls and ballboy. The other three are Melissa Malone of Nottingham, Laura Humphreys of Arbutus and Tom McGonigal of Severn.

The inconspicuous job requires skills and a love of the game. The ballgirls and ballboys sit on stools in the first- and third-base foul territories, watching for stray and foul balls.

Enthusiasm and an outgoing personality are a must.

"We look for people who are energetic and friendly," said Monica Pence, a communications manager for the Orioles. "There is a lot of interaction with the fans."

And who could argue with having the best seats and the closest view of the game?

"It's like having season tickets," said McGonigal, 20. "I never get sick of baseball, no matter how bad the Orioles are doing."

McGonigal, a junior majoring in business and communications at Villa Julie College in Stevenson, has been following the Orioles since he was 8 years old. The Anne Arundel County resident also played Little League for a number of years.

Although he has been on the field in Oriole Park before, McGonigal said he felt overwhelmed and delighted when he took his position beyond the first-base line on Opening Day.

McGonigal said he ran through a list of pointers in his mind.

"If I miss the ball, I'll be on ESPN not for a good reason," McGonigal said. "I was afraid to interfere with a fair ball. I almost did."

In the eighth inning, Orioles designated hitter David Segui hit a ground ball near the first-base line, where it hit the corner of the base, McGonigal said. The ball rolled his way, McGonigal said, so he started running toward it when Red Sox right fielder Gabe Kapler snatched it up.

After the close call, McGonigal said, the fans taunted him in jest. "They were getting on me a little bit," he said.

Opening Day for Shaffer was just as eventful, although she wasn't on the field.

"I got to meet Cal Ripkin [Jr.]," Shaffer said. "He was coming out of the VIP room, and I said, `I'm the new ballgirl, can I shake your hand?' And he said, `Sure.'"

Shaffer hadn't played softball for about three years when she found her mitt and practiced fielding grounders with her father the day before the tryouts.

Her skills were a little rusty.

"I didn't do well during practice, but I guess I did well during tryouts," she said, adding that she caught all six ground balls thrown to her. "I really didn't think I was going to make it because there were so many people there."

Her mother, who told Sarah about the tryouts, had a different attitude.

"She has always loved softball and the Orioles," Sherri Shaffer said. "I knew it was a job she would like doing."

Sarah Shaffer played competitive softball for Carroll Christian Schools in Westminster for three years before the program was discontinued.

But her athletic prowess extends beyond the softball field. She also played varsity soccer and basketball.

She is the school's all-time leading rebounder with 548 rebounds and ranks 12th in scoring with 385 points, said her former high school basketball coach, Matthew Reisberg.

"She's a solid athlete and can play any sport naturally," Reisberg said. "She was a good softball player, too. She's a team kind of a player."

At the game Wednesday night, Shaffer watched as the Red Sox scored seven runs in the second inning, taking a 7-0 lead.

As the evening wore on, Shaffer caught two more foul balls. She mingled with fans and got a very close look at Orioles left fielder Larry Bigbie, who ran toward her several times to field ground balls. Although the Orioles lost 10-3 that night, it was a memorable game for Shaffer.

"It was cool," she said. "The fans were really nice. I didn't have to worry about anyone yelling at me."

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