For 50 Baltimore ballplayers, Oriole Park becomes field of dreams

While the Orioles played in Detroit on Saturday, 50 Baltimore high school baseball players took the field at Camden Yards for the President's Cup showcase game.

It was a dream come true for many of the players, divided into East and West all-star teams based on the location of their high school.

"It is a great atmosphere, a great field, the day turned out nice, nothing to complain about," said Peter Solomon, the Mount St. Joseph star who has committed to pitch for Notre Dame next year. He began the showcase by striking out three consecutive East batters.

That the game was eventually a blowout — the West scored 11 runs in the bottom of the fifth inning — did not seem to matter much, and no one is likely to remember that the West scored 15 runs overall on 15 hits while the East scored twice on two hits.

But Jack Clifford of Mount St. Joseph and Holden Marshall of Friends will remember playing shortstop at the ballpark they have visited countless times, and kicking up the same dirt as their favorite player, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.

"I was trying to channel him out there," Marshall joked, after being presented the MVP trophy for his East team for hitting a single and stealing a pair of bases. "But seriously, he is one of the best fielders out there, so I definitely look up to him."

And ever since he was little, Clifford said he wanted to step onto the field and take a couple of swings. He did some damage with the two he took: ripping singles to right and left in his two at-bats.

Johnathan Brice of St. Frances will always remember patrolling center field like Orioles star Adam Jones, and wreaking havoc on the bases with his speed, scoring from second on a failed pick-off attempt when the ball was thrown into center field.

Jerrod Smith of Friendship Academy will never forget what it was like toeing the rubber like former Orioles reliever Jim Johnson.

"I am a major Orioles fan and the feeling to play where [Johnson] has pitched, that is a good feeling," Smith said. "It has been a dream since I was like five years old."

For City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, all of this means that his mission was accomplished.

Young reinvented the President's Cup with two goals: making sure more students got the opportunity to play at Camden Yards, and getting players from public and private schools from the East and West to play together.

Young was most proud of how eagerly the athletes embraced the experience of playing with people they have never met before.

"I was really excited to see all the players interact with each other and become friends," Young said. "That is what it is all about, and to spark more interest in baseball in the city of Baltimore."

It was clear the players enjoyed each other, standing together, chatting at the top step of their respective dugouts, cheering each other on with each at-bat.

"It was cool to meet new people and see guys from all over the city, and pretty fun to play with all of them," Clifford said. "It makes a good connection for the community and for baseball, it makes people more excited about the game to support each other."

Said Marshall: "There is just a common bond between players. It's ... baseball."

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