St. Paul's School for Girls offers home-field advantage for Ridge Ruxton

Each of the 30 Ridge Ruxton School students cheered as their buses turned into the parking lot at St. Paul's School for Girls on Wednesday, May 2.

The girls who waited to greet them cheered as they filed off the bus and through a receiving line of sorts.

From that moment on, the two student groups who come from the same world — but lead such different lives — spent the morning enjoying the simplest of pleasures: baseball.

"The idea is that baseball brings us together, but it's really the opportunity for kids to be with kids and learn about each others," said Frank Kolarek, president of League of Dreams.

"Everyone assumed they couldn't do it, so we took it upon ourselves to help them out," he said.

Kolarek formed League of Dreams eight years ago, and Wednesday marked the end of the sixth year of collaboration between the Ridge Ruxton School, a special needs school in West Towson, and the Students for Disability Awareness club at St. Paul's School for Girls.

"Each year now, we work in their phys ed classes and we bring the children baseball," said LuAnn Blackman, faculty moderator for the club. "We teach them the skills that they need, and this is our finale.

"This is Fenway Park," she said. "The kids, both our kids and their kids, really look forward to it."

After the players were outfitted in their League of Dreams hats, the play began with a short clinic.

Nevi Fernandez, a 16-year-old junior from Lutherville, paired up with Tabitha Marshall, who will be graduating from Ridge Ruxton this year, to play catch.

The two didn't say much, but they didn't have to.

Each toss and catch elicited a smile on both ends, and when they moved to ground balls, it became clear that the results of individual play didn't much matter.

As Tabitha chased the first ground ball that squirted through her legs back toward the bench, her smile was wider than it would have been if she had fielded it.

"I think it's really fun seeing the kids smile and everything, and just having a good time," Fernandez said. "It just makes me happy."

After a batting practice session and pregame ceremonies — including the National Anthem and ceremonial first pitch from Ridge Ruxton principal Ed Bennett — the game began.

Everyone singled, and accompanied by a St. Paul's girl, ran station to station around the bases.

Fernandez guided the players around the bases, using experience from her participation last year to better assist the Ridge Ruxton students.

"The first year, you don't know how to act with the kids," she said. "Last year, I felt uncomfortable if I needed to pull them to the base, but this year it felt fine because you know what you're supposed to do."

The fielders were all but perfunctory. Nobody made outs, nor were they asked to — especially when Jimmy Funk was at the plate.

Just as he had in the top half of the inning, Jimmy — wearing a personalized Orioles jersey underneath his white League of Dreams T-shirt — strode to the plate for the final at-bat of the game with big expectations and a swing to match.

"I've played, coached, scouted professionally, and there's a look in Jimmy's eye that is just like any other hitter," Kolarek said, later calling it a "sweet swing."

Fernandez said he could probably hit it farther than her.

Someone on the sidelines mentioned that he had hit a home run in the previous year's finale, and he did the same in his first trip to the plate Wednesday.

After fouling a pitch off with his smooth right-handed uppercut swing, he connected and drove a pitch over the heads of his classmates and the St. Paul's students, all of whom were too busy cheering him on than chasing the ball.

Somewhere between second and third, he caught and passed Clay Brogdon — whose excitement for the event has endeared him to the St. Paul's girls and shone bright enough to burn through the morning's cloud cover.

After they crossed home plate, Jimmy and Clay celebrated with a big hug.

They won. But really, everyone did.

A spectator made mention that in a more traditional setting, Jimmy would be ruled out.

Bennett simply smiled and replied, "Ridge Ruxton rules."

He paused, then clarified. "Ridge Ruxton RULES."

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