Orioles' reach extends far in Baltimore

Orioles' reach extends far

BALTIMORE -- Playing baseball is just the beginning. The Orioles have never seen themselves as existing separately from the community they play in, and they've gone to great lengths in recent years to underline that fact. Whether it's charitable donations or free baseball clinics for underprivileged youths, the Orioles are everywhere in Baltimore.

The team, through a variety of programs under the banner of the Baltimore Orioles Charitable Foundation, has raised more than $9 million for local charitable organizations since 1993. The Orioles call their outreach program OriolesREACH, and there's virtually no aspect of local society that they haven't touched through it.

"Under the current ownership group, the Orioles have made community initiatives and charitable programs a key component of our business model," said Greg Bader, Baltimore's director of communications. "Our mission statement reads that we are 'committed to developing the franchise as a community resource that supports civic, education and charitable outreach.' We take our role as a community leader very seriously and we want to lead the way in encouraging our fans to participate in important community endeavors. We are so proud to be a part of the city of Baltimore and of the state of Maryland, and we feel compelled to always give back whenever we can."

OriolesREACH is composed of three major elements, namely community appearances, in-park activities and fundraising and donations. One of the newest initiatives is called Shannon's Fund, which is named after former team employee Shannon Obaker, who passed away at age 29 after battling cancer.

Obaker, who used to run the team's community outreach program, has been memorialized in a fitting way. The Orioles established Shannon's Fund as a $50,000 endowment at a local hospital to aid cancer patients and their families, defraying the costs of things such as hospital parking, alternate housing and general household bills.

The Orioles also touch the community through the Gameday Experience Program, which has brought more than 40,000 kids to the ballpark for free over the past few seasons. The club sponsors 150 children for every home game, taking care of their tickets, transportation fees, food and merchandise for the evening.

Baltimore's longest-running program is the Orioles Food Drive, which has been held for more than two decades. In an effort spearheaded by Orioles Wives and the Oriole Advocates, volunteers collect money and non-perishable food items and deliver them to soup kitchens, pantries and shelters throughout the state of Maryland. The Orioles raised $30,000 in cash and more than 5,000 pounds of food for the needy this year alone, continuing the tradition.

Baltimore also participates in the RBI program, which is designed to Revive Baseball in Inner Cities. The Orioles sponsored a summer-long league in Baltimore and hosted 300 kids at Camden Yards in June, and they've also staged equipment drives and baseball clinics to benefit local children that may otherwise have no chance to play.

Various players have made the rounds of the community, visiting schools, hospitals and churches to meet and greet their most fervent fans. The Orioles also sponsored a summer reading program in local schools that encourages children to read for 20 minutes a day, an endeavor that more than 150,000 students participated in last summer.

No current player has made as much of a local impact as Brian Roberts, who has made a regular habit of visiting local children's hospitals and spending time with as many kids as possible. Roberts, who underwent open-heart surgery when he was a child, hosts an annual event named Brian's Bash that raised more than $165,000 this year.

Baltimore's players and coaches also visited veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center this season, spending time and sharing stories with injured men and women who served the country's armed forces. Reliever Jame Walker donates money to the U.S. Army Emergency Relief Fund and is often on hand to greet veterans at the stadium.

The last event of the year -- but certainly not the least valuable -- is the team's annual Christmas Party for kids, at which several players and team alumni serve lunch, play games and sign autographs.

You name the venue or the segment of society, and chances are the Orioles have been there. The baseball season has a demanding schedule, but the Orioles still make time to touch the people who make their dreams possible.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.