Members of the Bluford Drew Jemison Rockets baseball team gathered in a group on the third-base line of Utz Twardowicz Field on Tuesday afternoon.
The day was already special. The weather was gorgeous, they were playing baseball and knew they had raised enough money to keep their previously struggling program afloat.
But all of a sudden, their day got even better. Orioles center fielder Adam Jones walked through the third-base gate, waved and strolled down the base path toward the players, many of whose mouths hung open in shock. They had no idea he was coming.
“It’s awesome meeting Adam Jones because he’s an Orioles player,” 14-year-old outfielder Danyelle Dominique-Taylor said. “Watching him play last night was amazing.”
Jones, wearing a pink and black plaid shirt and sporting a pair of snazzy sunglasses, high-fived the Rockets players and members of the Girls on the Run of the Greater Chesapeake track team. The baseball team raised $3,500 and the track team raised $10,500, and Dick’s Sporting Goods matched each of those totals as part of their Sports Matter initiative.
Tuesday was a day to celebrate those accomplishments and promote youth sports in Baltimore.
Jones presented a $7,000 check to the Rockets and a $21,000 check to the track team. He then signed autographs underneath a green canopy to the right of home plate and schmoozed with the young athletes in attendance.
He joked with players as they came up to him one-by-one.
“What position do you play?” he asked a fan.
“Center field,” the fan responded.
“You better than me?” Jones asked, looking up from the glove he was signing and smiling.
Jones then talked about the importance of programs like this to keep kids involved in sports. Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation has worked to help at least 180 teams across the country to raise a total of more than $4 million.
The SHARP Center predicts that 27 percent of United States public high schools will not have sports by the year 2020. The goal of fundraisers like this one, Dick’s community marketing manager Bobbie Bardzik said, is to ensure that children across the country have a chance to continue doing what they love and have someone to look up to like Jones.
“When I was 5 to 16 or 17 [years old], everything was free or a very low cost,” Jones said. “Nowadays it’s $100 or more for the summer. Programs like this give the kids an opportunity.”
As soon as Girls on the Run executive director Lara Mish submitted her grant to Dick's, she started freaking out. “Oh my god, how are we going to do this?” she thought.
But once she got hefty donations from Charm City Run and orthodontist Mairead O’Reilly in Annapolis, among other organizations, the goal didn’t seem so daunting.
When her sister, Jen Bornemann, was married May 10, she didn’t ask for any gifts. Instead, she and her partner asked for donations for Girls on the Run. They raised $1,900, and are still collecting money to this day.
“It actually seemed impossible to me at the beginning,” Mish said. “It really did.”
But they did it. They reached the goal they set out to achieve of $10,500, and Dick’s matched that amount.
For baseball coach John Merrill, Tuesday was a chance to see his kids soak in the moment and meet one of their heroes. As soon as Danyelle saw a chance to jump in a picture with Jones, she darted over and snuck into the shot.
A team that nearly didn’t have enough funding to remain in existence is now flourishing, thanks to the fundraising campaign orchestrated by the Parks and People Foundation.
“It gives them sort of a goal to look at,” Merrill said. “He’s a hero and is a good role model for them to look up to.”
One player who looks up to Jones -- and loved watching his two-run home run Monday night -- is Dujuan Heckstall. Heckstall’s favorite player is Wei-Yin Chen, but he was still star struck when he met Jones on Tuesday.
As Dujuan and his teammates posed for a picture, he pointed to his right sleeve. There was Adam Jones’ signature.
“I’m never washing this shirt!” he exclaimed.