For most of the President's Cup showcase baseball game Saturday, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the star.
As players from 15 of Baltimore's public and private high schools battled in an East vs. West format, they also posed on the warning track for pictures between innings. Ketchup won the second-inning hot dog race. "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" blared while the West team took infield during a "fifth-inning stretch."
And even in the later innings of a game the East would win, 8-7, the West's Paul Kaschak had to stop and take note of his surreal surroundings.
"I was out in center field in the fifth inning, sixth inning. A couple times I was just turning around, looking, taking it all in," said Kaschak, who plays for Mount Saint Joseph. "Our center field is about 370 [feet]. Theirs is about 410. There's a lot more grass out there."
Eventually, though, a serious ballgame broke out, coming to a head with a dramatic seventh inning.
After the West scored twice in the top half to take a 7-6 lead, East pinch runner Jamar Griffin tied it when he scored with two outs on a wild pitch, beating pitcher Dominic Rheubottom's tag.
"Slid around it," said Griffin, a Digital Harbor standout. "The ball went back, but it hit the wall, so I was like, 'Should I go or not?' I hear the coaches screaming 'Come! Come! Come!' So I just came."
Gilman's John Fitzgerald followed with a double down the third-base line. And when he scored three batters later to give the East an 8-7 victory, players from nine different schools passed around their newly won trophy like it was a city championship.
"These kids play each other in different sports," said East coach Bernie White, who also coaches Dunbar. "So when it comes to baseball, it's like World War III."
Said Kaschak: "We definitely wanted to win. Especially the play at the plate. Our whole bench was jumping up and down. We thought we had it there. But it is what it is."
In a game sponsored by the Orioles and City Council President Jack Young, with the purpose of bringing together the separate and unequal worlds of private and public school baseball, both squads had sloppy moments while teammates learned each other.
The West scored seven times despite only three hits — all the hits coming in a three-run fourth — and the East scored eight runs on seven hits. Each team committed four errors, while Kaschak and Fitzgerald were the only players to register extra-base hits, both doubles.
Fitzgerald and fellow Gilman pitcher Alex Shafer each threw two no-hit innings, although Shafer saw his team lose a one-run lead during his second inning of work.
And in a perhaps fitting end, Fitzgerald scored the winning run when Poly's Rheubottom plunked Isaiah Braxton, another Gilman teammate.
Despite all of those rough edges, though, most agreed the opportunity was well worth it.
"It was an incredible experience," Fitzgerald said. "Definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I was honored to be nominated."
Said White: "They get a chance to play with people they would never play with any other way. … That's a lovely thing. I look forward to it every year, just to help out and do what we can do."