When the Ravens selected Gino Gradkowski, an interior lineman from Delaware, in last month’s NFL draft, their intention was to groom him to eventually become the successor to Matt Birk. Gradkowski, a fourth-round pick, has said that he is eager to pick the veteran center’s brain. And on Monday night, Birk said he would gladly teach Gradkowski whatever he wants to learn.
“I’m very much looking forward to working with him,” Birk said. “I remember my first year in the league and second year in the league, the other guys -- and they didn’t have to -- looked out for me, took time to teach me and watch me and tell me what they saw. It’s great because the coaches do a great job coaching, but to get a player’s perspective as well, it’s helpful.”
When Birk was a newcomer with the Minnesota Vikings, veteran linemen such as Randall McDaniel, Jeff Christy, and Korey Stringer made a “huge” impact on his development as a player. Because of their generosity, he has always been open to helping out younger players.
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He said he has not yet spoken with Gradkowski. But they share an agent -- Joe Linta, who also represents Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco -- and Birk joked that “my agent vouches for him.”
Birk was hosting his third annual celebrity servers dinner at Morton’s in the Inner Harbor on Monday night. Birk and other Ravens served drinks and dinner to guests and signed autographs. Proceeds from the event benefit his HIKE Foundation, which provides at-risk children with educational opportunities. It is the foundation’s main fundraiser, supporting the majority of its programs.
“It’s been very successful. This is the third year we’ve done it and the people of Baltimore have gotten behind it. We’ve sold it out every year,” Birk said. “It’s a unique, fun way to raise money for our charity. It allows people to rub elbows with guys on the team.”
It also gave Birk and a handful of his teammates -- Flacco, Ray Rice, Paul Kruger, and Lardarius Webb were among them -- a chance to connect with fans. The center, who in March signed a new three-year contract, has embraced the community and is happy to be staying in Baltimore.
“I never said I was going to retire. As you get up there [in age], you take it year by year. When the season was over, you have to wait a little while,” Birk said. “Physically, I felt like I could do it again. I’m very fortunate to be with a team like the Ravens, a team that wanted me back.”