11-year-old blogger gets to cover Orioles in spring training

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Orioles manager Buck Showalter walked into the interview room near the team's clubhouse after a 9-2 spring training victory over a split squad of the Pittsburgh Pirates at Ed Smith Stadium. With his team averaging nearly eight runs per game, Showalter was in a good mood after slugger Chris Davis had three straight hits to raise his average to.533 while the team batting average rose to .314.

The assembled media, mostly from Baltimore and Sarasota publications, began the daily give-and-take with Showalter when perhaps the most pressing question came from Sydney Hudak. She asked Showalter about his impressions of Jonathan Schoop and if the young second baseman had a chance to make the Opening Day roster.

Perhaps it was not an earth-shaking question, and it wasn't like Showalter was being stalked by 60 Minutes or even TMZ. But then again Hudak is 11 years old and in fifth grade at Fruitville Elementary School in Sarasota.

"I just wanted to know if he had a chance to make the team because he had a good game," Sydney said after Schoop had two hits in the exhibition game March 9. "I have watched him play when he came up at the end of last season. There are a lot of people trying to make the Orioles."

Showalter praised Sydney for her question and said some nice things about Schoop, but stopped short of saying he would head north with the Orioles.

So how did Sydney, whose mother, Karen, graduated from Mt. Hebron High School in 1988 and grew up in Ellicott City, secure a press credential in order to attend the postgame interview session with Showalter?

"She plays softball and she just loves sports in general, and Maryland sports for some reason," said her mother, Karen, whose parents, Vince and Mary Lou Mazzuca, still live in Ellicott City.

"I just wanted to learn more about the Orioles and how they work," said Sydney, who enjoys math and lists third baseman Manny Machado as her favorite player.

Her father, Gregg, said he wrote to someone at Ed Smith Stadium late last year about the possibility of Sydney interviewing members of the organization for her blog during spring training and that request was sent to Monica Pence Barlow, then the team's Director of Public Relations. "Monica thought it was a great idea," said Gregg Hudak, who is from Rockville, graduated from the University of Maryland and is retired from the U.S. military.

Barlow, a longtime resident of Ellicott City, died Feb. 28 in Columbia from non-small cell lung cancer at the age of 36. Before Barlow died she had forwarded the request from Sydney to her colleague, Jeff Lantz, who works in public relations and helped introduce the young blogger to members of the team.

The fifth-grader had already interviewed Showalter and Orioles Executive Vice President Dan Duquette in person before she came to Ed Smith Stadium for the game against the Pirates. She also had done a phone interview with Chris Hoiles, a former Orioles catcher.

Lantz introduced Sydney to Brittany Ghiroli, who covers the Orioles for MLB.com and the two sat together in the pressbox during the game with the Pirates. Ghiroli, who met Sydney on an earlier visit to Ed Smith Stadium, showed the fifth-grader how to keep score. "She picked it up really quickly," Ghiroli said. "She was very prepared."

Before the game Sydney, who plays second and outfield on her youth softball team, interviewed a young man who is an equipment manager and during the game Ghiroli introduced her to one of the groundskeepers, whom she also interviewed.

"When I talked to the equipment manager and groundskeeper I learned it was a lot of work. I did not think it would be that hard," said Sydney, who was impressed with the long hours put in by behind-the-scene workers.

With the game near its end, Sydney and her mother followed Ghiroli to the postgame press conference with Showalter, held near the team's clubhouse beyond the right field fence at Ed Smith Stadium.

Hudak is the daughter of Karen and Gregg Hudak, who moved to Sarasota with their three children when Sydney was about 4. Karen grew up going with her father to see the Orioles play at old Memorial Stadium in the late 1970s. Her brother, Steve, and sister, Tricia, also live in Howard County. Sydney and her family, which includes two younger sisters, spent part of their summer visiting relatives in Howard County in 2012 and plan to visit again this summer.

One of the highlights for Sydney, according to her mom, was getting a free can of Sprite in the pressbox. The fifth-grader waved from the pressbox to her father, grandfather and one of her sisters, who were sitting in the stands. She was also taken aback to see Davis, the Orioles' slugger, eating cereal after the game near the clubhouse. "He's a regular guy," Sydney's mom said.

"I know more now about the Orioles," Sydney said.

"It was really cool of the Orioles to let her do that," said Ghiroli, who suggested to Sydney that she ask specific questions and not general ones to Showalter.

Sydney will see her first Orioles game at Camden Yards this summer as a gift for her 12th birthday, which is in October. So Showalter had better be ready -- a Sarasota fifth-grader might show up with pen and reporter's notebook in hand.

For more on her writing go to http://springtrainingwithsydney.mlblogs.com.

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