St. Philip Neri Catholic School is not Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but that didn’t stop students, staff and teachers from making three Orioles pitchers from feeling right at home during their visit to the school Thursday.
Pitchers Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter and Troy Patton, as well as MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter came to fete the school after it won first place in the Baltimore Orioles’ Go Orange Challenge.
The school was transformed into a sea of black and orange. Students, normally dressed in uniforms, were allowed to wear Oriole colors for the day, and almost all the teachers and staff did as well. Student artwork—of paper jerseys with either team players names and numbers or the students’ names in their place —and acrostic poems celebrating the team filled the halls. A giant banner encouraging the players in their journey to the World Series hung over Principal Kate Daley’s office.
And the sound from the student body of about 350 when Hunter introduced the Oriole Bird, and then the pitchers was deafening and mirrored Camden Yards, Hammel said afterward.
“We came here, and they blew our eardrums out. Anytime we go to a school, it’s loud, but this was unbelievable. It sounded like 40,000 (people),” he said.
The transformation of the school into the Orioles’ biggest supporter began only a couple weeks ago, after teacher Cheryl Trzcinski, an Orioles fan, found an announcement about the Go Orange Challenge on their Facebook page, she said.
She emailed Daley about it, and Daley asked the teachers if they wanted to participate. Most readily agreed, and they told the students about it.
From there, it was on, Trzcinski said. Students stayed after school to work on their projects. The entire student body dressed in orange and formed a giant O on the yard, took a photo and emailed it and other documentation of their activities.
But Trzcinski said because so many schools were participating, she never thought St. Philip Neri would win. She approached Daley because she thought it would be a good way to create excitement and school spirit.
“It’s been awesome. The entire school came together,” she said. “It was a school effort, and it paid off.”
Nearly 30 schools around the state participated in the contest. Perry Hall Elementary won second place, and Halstead Academy of Science and the Arts in Baltimore won third.
As first place winners, the students also received a backpack, a T-shirt and a notebook from the team’s Dugout Club, as well as tickets to a home game in 2013.
But the kids most seemed to enjoy asking questions of the players when given the opportunity.
Seventh-grader Skyler Fitch wanted to know who their biggest influences were. For Hammel, that was his father. Originally, Hammel wanted to play football as a kid, he told the crowd.
“He said I was too skinny, so I switched,” he said.
After asking her question, Skyler said the students were thrilled with the visit.
“It means a lot because we put a lot of hard work into it, and we had fun. And it gave us something to do,” she said.
For the players, the feeling was mutual, they said afterward. They regularly volunteer throughout the year, but speaking to children is special, Hammel said.
And knowing how excited they are makes competing to be in the World Series even more special, he said. The New York Yankees continue to hold a slim 1½-game lead over the Orioles with only eight games remaining.
“It’s nice to see the kids appreciate our hard work,” Hammel said. “Anything with the kids, the excitement makes us feel good.”