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Shooting for the big leagues

The Baltimore Sun

When her husband and son headed off to a lacrosse game yesterday morning, Debbie Brown, a 43-year-old former college softball player, dusted off her glove and set off for Camden Yards.

Brown, unbeknownst to the family, had her mind focused on becoming an Orioles ballgirl.

"I just wanted to do something on a whim," said Brown, who heard a radio advertisement for the job a few hours before tryouts were set to start at noon. "I'll probably tell them where I've been at all afternoon when I get back."

Brown joined about 75 other hopefuls at Oriole Park, fielding ground balls along the third-base line under a sparkling sun. The would-bes ranged in age from 18 to 70, their attire from jeans and work shoes to athletic shorts and spikes.

Now Brown and the others will wait for callbacks. The Orioles expect to contact at least 20 for a second interview and will make a final decision on this season's four to six ballboys and ballgirls by the end of the month.

Nearly all of those who worked out professed to be Orioles fans, a primary motivation for shagging balls. For others, like Brown, it looked like a chance to stay close to the game after injury and age had taken their toll.

Brown, who lives in Timonium, was an outfielder and first baseman at the College of Notre Dame years ago. She continued to play in women's and recreational leagues for decades before a couple of back surgeries put her on the bench.

Yesterday was the first time she had picked up a glove in two years, but she proved that old skills die hard, fielding all four grounders easily. "It felt natural," she said.

With a successful tryout under her belt, Brown said she planned to tell her husband, Charlie, when she got home. "We really are a fun family," Brown said.

Like Brown, Steve Eno, 22, a former catcher at the Johns Hopkins University, went 4-for-4 fielding ground balls, displaying a rocket arm in the process.

If Eno is selected, chances are the Orioles won't have to worry about him running late for games - he lives in an apartment a block from the stadium.

It might not be the way Eno envisioned fielding balls on the Camden Yards grass when he was a kid, but at this stage of his life - having graduated to playing softball - he'll take it.

"I know I'm not going to make it to the pros or anything like that," Eno said. "Now I just want the opportunity to come out and see some quality baseball."

Eno, who works as a technical consultant for a software company, pointed out that if he is selected, attendance may get a boost from old Hopkins teammates who turn out to see him.

"They're going to get tickets as close as they can, just to heckle me," Eno said.

Shortly after Eno left the field, Jack Flanagan, 70, of Columbia, took his shot. Flanagan, retired from a sales and marketing career, was a pitcher for his high school baseball team in Boston.

That was back when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, right?

"Yeah, but they can't discriminate against me," Flanagan said. "It says that on the sheet they give us."

They can, however, penalize him for letting a ball bounce into the outfield, which is what happened during one of Flanagan's attempts yesterday. If it happens in a game?

"That's why they got a left fielder," Flanagan said.


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