Pitchers Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter and Troy Patton, as well as the Oriole Bird and MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter, visited St. Philip Neri, which along with 30 other schools responded to the Orioles challenge to decorate their buildings in the team's colors.
St. Philip Neri went all out, decorating classrooms, the gymnasium, doors and hallways with orange placards, bedsheet-size signs, balloons and paper uniforms. The 365-student school served an Orioles-themed lunch and formed a cursive "O" for an aerial photo. Principal Kate Daley, who named Orioles manager Buck Showalter honorary principal, put a sign on her door: "The Buck Stops Here."
"Sometimes we would stay in for recess, some kids would stay after school, and we worked during art classes," said seventh-grader Justin McKoy.
Students sat in the gymnasium Thursday afternoon during the assembly to welcome the Orioles and cheered so loudly that the players could not be heard over the speakers.
"That was loud. That rang your ears a little bit," said Tommy Hunter. "It was fun. It was a lot of energy, and hopefully everybody brings that energy out to the ballfield the next couple of days and helps us win."
The challenge comes as the Orioles are staging their most successful season in years and could capture their first postseason berth since 1997.
The students at St. Philip Neri, which serves pre-K through eighth grades, weren't around back then. But they and students at schools across the state have shown that the Orioles have fostered a new generation of fans who are eagerly awaiting the team's reversal of fortunes.
"I really started watching them a few years ago," said eighth-grader Jacob Dunham. "My mom was a big Orioles fan when she was younger, but then they started doing bad and she kind of got out of it. This season, I pledged I would follow them as much as I could because it's interesting. Last year, I said the same thing, but I really didn't follow through with it."
Said Patton, "The Ravens dominate this town a lot of the time, and we'd like to get these kids watching Orioles baseball young so they follow us all the way through. Hopefully, if we continue to win and put a good product on the field, these kids will become lifelong fans."
Perry Hall Elementary in Baltimore won second place in the competition and Halstead Academy of Science and the Arts in Baltimore came in third, team officials said. St. Philip Neri students were given Orioles backpacks and T-shirts. All three schools will receive tickets for an Orioles home game in April, team officials said.
"It's brought the whole community together," said Daley. "Not just the school but the parish got into it, the school board supported our efforts. It's really what Catholic education is about, bringing the community together to get a job done."
Daley said the Orioles' resurgence has taught the students lessons about perseverance and hard work.
Several students asked the players questions during the assembly. Seventh-grader Skyler Fitzgerald asked, "What influenced you most [during] your baseball career?"
Patton and Hammel mentioned past coaches, and Hunter mentioned his father. They were also asked when they started playing baseball, which team they believe they will face in the World Series and what they do when they're not playing baseball.
And the players chuckled at the idea of Showalter being named honorary principal.
"I think he would make a great principal," Patton said. "He'd be stern and strict, and no one would get out of line."