Ball girl/boy prospects give it their best shot

Parkville grandmother among 65 applicants at Oriole Park

March 05, 2011|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Check another item off the bucket list for Kathryn Becker, a 70-year-old Parkville grandmother who donned her Orioles turtleneck, cap and Brooks Robinson jersey and came to the ballpark Saturday afternoon for the 2011 ball girl/ball boy tryouts.

She's been an Orioles fan since the beginning in the 1950s, she said, since before most of the other 64 people trying out yesterday at Oriole Park at Camden Yards were born. Becker held her own among the prospects, shouting "CHARGE," fielding grounders and tossing balls back along the warning track in left field, even if the surgery to her right shoulder about 10 years ago took some zip off her fastball.

"This was such an awesome experience," said Becker, who revealed that she'd put Orioles ball girl tryout on the list of things she wants to do before she dies some time ago, along with going to Europe and things that are "a little too personal" to be talking about in public.

She brought the Rawlings glove she figured she hadn't worn for about a year — its last use coming when she was at the ballpark and bumped into former Orioles first-baseman Boog Powell at his barbecue stand on the Eutaw Street concourse. He signed the glove along the back.

"I never expected all this attention," she said, as a TV camera and reporter moved in for a quote. "I thought I'd be just one of many."

One of many 70-year-olds trying out for Orioles ball girl? She wasn't, as it turned out. The team official coordinating the event, Heather Bressler, said it has happened before.

Technically, the Orioles are allowed to ask an applicant only whether he or she is at least 18 years old, Bressler said. She said the team is looking for people who can not only handle ground balls, but also be personable with fans and energetic when taking part in on-field ceremonies.

Most who showed up appeared to be in their 20s, some in their 40s and 50s — each moved by their own passion for baseball, love for the Orioles or a chance to fulfill a dream of being part of a season at Camden Yards. No one mentioned needing the money, but the job pays $8 an hour.

"I think the thing they're looking for is over-the-top passion," said a 22-year-old Baltimore man who has a name for the game: Cal, as in Calum Renner. He had never tried out before but figured it was time.

"I've always been an Orioles fan … I should think working for the organization would be kind of an outlet for my orange-and-black blood," said Renner, who reckoned his new job as a bank teller would give him the flexibility he needed to fulfill the assignment.

Under an overcast sky, with temperatures reaching cool, Opening Day conditions, a crew was waiting with video camera, fungo bat and scoresheet to put the talent through the paces.

First: Face the camera and say why you want the job. Second: take your position next to the railing, wait for the bugle call to sound on the PA system, and then uncork your best cry of "CHARGE." Third: take your seat and be ready for grounders.

Former Orioles pitcher Dave Johnson took up the slender fungo bat to rap out about five grounders to each applicant, bouncing a few off the wall to see how the hopefuls managed the carom.

"We need to make sure they have skills so they're not going to get hurt," said Johnson, now an MASN broadcaster. "We need to make sure they can protect themselves."

Carl Birkmeyer of the Orioles productions department stood by with a looseleaf binder filled with scoresheets, jotting down Johnson's assessments of the applicants' performance on a scale of 1-10 in each of three categories: communication skills, enthusiasm and athleticism/fielding ability.

When Anthony "Boomer" Durham, a 27-year-old former high school and college baseball player from Baltimore, picked one grounder cleanly with his glove swung behind him between his legs, Johnson threw his hands in the air. "That's it," Johnson said.

That move rated a rare "10" on the Johnson-o-meter, Birkmeyer reported.

"Not only is it sports, it's also entertainment," said Durham, explaining later why he hot-dogged it a bit. "I figure the fans should get a little extra."

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