Not many people outside Major League Baseball can say they've played catch with former All-Star Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.
Monday morning, Abby Zalucki, a sophomore at Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville, added her name to the list.
The 16-year-old varsity softball catcher caught the ceremonial first pitch from Ripken at the all-girls Catholic high school's new multi-purpose turf field dedication.
"I think it's really exciting, and I don't think many other people can say they've had an experience like this," Zalucki said.
Because of the morning rain, the ceremony took place inside the school's packed gymnasium.
The ceremony also included a dedication and blessing by the Most Rev.William Lori, archbishop of Baltimore, and speeches by faculty, academy officials and Ripken.
The $1.7 million field was designed by Ripken Design, of which the Orioles' Hall of Famer is owner and CEO, in partnership with FIELDS, Inc.
The unique design incorporated a softball diamond to go with the turf field for field hockey, lacrosse and soccer. The complex also can be used for track and field.
"The new field is great," Zalucki said. "We get to play a lot more games on it, especially when it's raining."
"It's just really great, and it's an honor to have him (Cal Ripken Jr.) here," she said. "This field is one of a kind so it's really special."
Ripken said he was delighted to be such an integral part of the project.
"I have a special place for girls schools," Ripken said. "My daughter (Rachel) went to a girls school. I've had great experiences coaching some of those girls.
"I loved the excitement in the room (today)," he said.
He said the new field will give the student-athletes at de Sales an important opportunity to play on their own home field after having to travel off campus for practices and games.
"In the big leagues, they make a big deal out of home-field advantage or playing on the road," Ripken said.
"It's understood that it's going to be a little hostile when you go to another place," he said. "But real simply, it's great to play in front of your family and your friends and have the school there to support you.
"We take for granted all the things that sports will give you or give you an opportunity to learn," Ripken said.
"I think the coolest part is the joy and the fun that transpires on the athletic field," he said.
The athletes representing Mount de Sales echoed his enthusiasm for a new home field.
"It was really exciting, especially for soccer because we've always been off campus," said senior Rosie Ruzzi, a member of the school's soccer team, of the field's dedication.
"This is the first year we've been able to play on campus," the Catonsville resident said.
She said it was great to watch the whole school come together in support of the new field.
"It's exciting to see the school so enthusiastic about sports teams and athletics," Ruzzi said. "It's so cool that we got Cal to come."
Sister Philip Joseph, director of academy advancement at de Sales, said the previously existing field was difficult to maintain and not very usable. Sister Philip Joseph said she was thrilled to see the school's hard work finally come to fruition at the dedication.
"Everybody did their part, and it worked well," she said.
Though the school still needs to raise $550,000 to finish paying for the field's completion, she said she is glad the girls will be able to enjoy it for the spring sports season.
"Finally, they've got their home gym, they've got their home field," she said, referring to the Pistorio Sports Complex on campus. "We had the field, it was just ... not really playable.
"Now they can all come home," she said.
The field marks Phase II of the school's three-phase capital campaign to improve its campus.
The first phase included construction of a new convent for the members of the Dominican Sisters of the Saint Cecilia Congregation who teach and work at the school.
New security measures as well as heating and air conditioning for the school building, which was built in 1852, were also part of Phase I.
Phase III of the $14.5 million campaign will include construction of a Performing Arts Building on the Academy Road campus.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun