"This opportunity would have never happened if it wasn't for the Orioles," said Teresa Smith, who coaches the 9-12 age group and was able to bring 11 of her players who fall into the proper age category. "We don't come from a background where we have a lot of money to do these things with the kids. To fly them to another state to participate in an opportunity like this, to build friendships with other teams in other states, I can't thank the Orioles enough.
"We definitely have to represent Baltimore, we definitely have to show love to our home team. I'm glad they put the [Orioles] names on our uniforms, we are representing them. I am definitely thankful to them, I know the kids are. It's a dream come true."
The uniforms were part of the all-expenses paid trip, which included accommodations and airfare. Getting to fly, a first for most of the girls, was exciting enough. Getting their pictures taken with Cal Ripken Jr., who also spoke with the RBI team, was the kind of thing that general manager Ebony Johnson hopes sticks with the group to reinforce that the game can lead to opportunities.
"I really think it will," said Johnson, who was first contacted by the Orioles about the trip and got in touch with Smith to set the ball in action. "Being in Baltimore and competing against other local teams, other neighborhood teams, you see the same people over and over over. This definitely adds variety to it, and we are trying to show them there is potential for you to go to college, to get an athletic scholarship. Really just pushing them to pursue the sport. And being out there [at the All-Star Week] they can say, 'OK, this is what coach was talking about."
Johnson's team had its first game on Friday morning rained out and is scheduled to play Friday night, along with two games on Saturday and Monday. They'll have a skills day on Sunday with clinics to help the players learn, and there's also some community service involved with the team to give back to the area.
That's just part of their busy schedule as the team has been invited to watch the All-Star Futures Game, Celebrity Softball Game and attend the All-Star FanFest. The experience, which is entirely paid for by MLB and the Orioles, is an enriching experience, with games often halted as the emphasis is on skills and doing things the right way. Johnson was pleased that Baltimore's players had already formed relationships with some of the other RBI clubs.
"Just getting here and meeting a lot of people, Birmingham [Ala.] today, South Carolina … we've all been playing together," Johnson said.
Added Smith: "This is an experience they will never forget. Just the thought of them being on a plane, they can't stop talking about it ... just to hear them express that. They will never forget this. This is the first place they've been outside of their community."