As a young boy attending elementary and middle school in Anne Arundel County, Steve Clevenger would go on school trips to see the Orioles play at Camden Yards.
Thanks to a ticket program that provided seats to youngsters, Clevenger was able to see firsthand some of his favorite players, including Joe Orsulak, Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Devereaux and Chris Hoiles.
Now the tables are turned for Clevenger, a former Mount St. Joseph standout who grew up in Glen Burnie and lives in Linthicum.
A pro baseball player since 2006, Clevenger found himself on the giving end as the Orioles catcher took part in his first OriolesREACH Holiday Party for Kids on Monday at Dave & Buster's at Arundel Mills mall.
About 80 children from Alexander Hamilton Elementary in West Baltimore were the guests.
"It is a great opportunity to give back to the community, a community that supports its pro teams," said Clevenger, 27, wearing an orange No. 45 Orioles jersey and jeans. "Being an inner-city kid myself, I know how rough it can be at times for families during the holiday."
Clevenger attended Overbrook Elementary in North Linthicum and Lindale Middle School in Linthicum before playing baseball at Mount St. Joseph's, where he faced strong programs such as Archbishop Spalding of Severn.
He was drafted out of Florida's Chipola College by the Chicago Cubs in 2006, made his major league debut in 2011 and was traded to the Orioles in July.
Clevenger, along with Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis and pitcher Steve Johnson, another local product who attended St. Paul's School, spent about 45 minutes playing video games with some of the children Monday.
"They are more interested in playing video games than talking" to a big-leaguer, Clevenger said with a grin.
After a morning of games in the arcade, the three players, along with former Baltimore outfielder Al Bumbry and ex-pitcher Dave Johnson, Steve's father, served lunch to the students at a buffet line at Dave & Buster's.
Clevenger was the first player the children saw when they came to fill their plates. "French fries?" Clevenger asked of a 5-year-old boy no taller than the big leaguer's favorite bat.
Hamilton students were selected to attend based on standards set by the school, including attendance. According to team officials, this is the 35th year the Orioles have held a holiday party for children from economically disadvantaged areas in Baltimore. A different school is selected each year.
"For us, it's an awesome experience to get people that would normally not be able to make it here," said Mike Thomas, the assistant general manager of Dave & Buster's, where the Orioles have held the holiday party the past several years.
"The Orioles ... partner with us, as we do with them when we do events at Camden Yards, said Thomas, a youth coach in Severn who lives in Hanover. The students "get to come down here and experience players former and current. I think it is a great program. They get to see Santa and get gifts. … It is holiday cheer."
Tom Davis of MASN played Santa Claus, and the students played the video games at no charge.
Fourth-grader Mi'layjah McEachern, 9, who attended with her mother, Tonya, said her favorite part of the day was seeing the Oriole Bird, who wore a Santa hat. "He is funny," she said.
"This is what it's all about," said Markakis, an Orioles veteran, after serving lunch. "It is great to see the smiles on their faces. It is a great time of the year."
The players autographed baseball cards to give to the students.
"We try to put a smile on their faces and give them some gifts," Steve Johnson said.
In his first stint with his hometown Orioles, Clevenger, a left-handed hitting catcher, had four hits in 15 at-bats in four games as a backup to two-time All-Star Matt Wieters.
Clevenger will head to spring training as a possible backup to Wieters. But for a few hours Monday he was able to spread some holiday cheer and play video games like a 10-year-old again.
He and his longtime girlfriend, Tiffany, whom he met in college in Florida, were married in November.
His mother still lives in Anne Arundel County, and while Clevenger took part in outreach efforts with the Cubs, being able to do it with the Orioles took on added importance.
"It was always a dream of mine to play for the Orioles. I cherish this moment," he said. "It is very special to me."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun