Video games, free food, professional baseball players and free haircuts — it’s the stuff of boys’ dreams, and it did not fail to get the students from the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys and the Orioles RBI Program bouncing with energy and excitement as they ran around the auxiliary clubhouse at Camden Yards.
On Friday, the start of Players’ Weekend and the last Friday before school starts, the Givens Back Foundation, led by Orioles pitcher Mychal Givens, provided haircuts to the students at the ballpark, along with backpacks and free tickets to the game.
Givens said he chose to provide haircuts because it was something “simple,” he could do. But that wasn’t the true purpose of the event.
“It's about me spending time with them and giving them a good experience and someone to look up to, hopefully,” Givens said. “If I can change one kid's mind of becoming something, and not letting anybody tell them what they can't do.”
When Givens was in high school, he used to take the offseason to help coach younger kids. Through his experiences with travel leagues, he noticed that lots of programs focus on winning and money, rather than fun and development.
Once Givens found success as a professional baseball player, he decided to use his platform to create the Givens Back Foundation to give kids from the inner city opportunities in baseball and beyond, with a focus on life development.
The organization is based out of Tampa Bay, Florida, and it has a 12-year-old baseball team. This year, it will be adding an 11-year-old team.
Orioles pitcher Richard Bleier said he and his teammates try to support the foundation when they can and attend games when they’re in Florida for spring training. The foundation is meant to create “Big Brothers Big Sisters” type of relationships. Givens’s childhood friends have joined him in his efforts, as well as other professional baseball players such as the Houston Astro’s Kyle Tucker and the Tampa Bay Ray’s Kevin Kiermaier, who the Orioles will play during Players’ Weekend.
When Bleier heard about the back-to-school haircuts, he “couldn’t turn it down.”
“Maybe I'm going to sign up for classes in the fall, so I'm going back to school, too,” Bleier joked.
Bleier joined the group of fourth through eighth grade boys in the auxiliary clubhouse, where barbers from Tampa Bay and Baltimore had set up stations with chairs, mirrors and lights in the lockers.
Many of the students came with pictures and notes about what type of haircuts they wanted, said Iain Davis, the fifth grade English and language arts teacher at the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys. Bleier planned to get his regular haircut, the “middle school haircut look.”
Other players such as Miguel Castro, Richie Martin and Hansar Alberto swung by the event, too, Davis said, which got the boys excited. Almost as excited as they were to play video games and to go out on the field.
One of the best moments for Davis, who is also the school’s baseball coach, was seeing the conversation between one of his pitchers and Givens.
“Having Mychal Givens, a MLB pitcher, and a very good pitcher, talk to him and hearing the exchange about pitching tips and stuff, that was really, really cool to see,” Davis said.
By reaching out to a group in Baltimore that is often overlooked, the Orioles have shown they truly care about their community, Davis said, and more events such as this are needed.
“This is going to change [the students'] lives forever,” Davis said.
Givens has shown how important it is for him to be truly involved because he doesn’t just lead his foundation, but he also actively participates in its events and programs, Bleier said.
Givens will represent his foundation all weekend with the pair of cleats he had made for Players’ Weekend.
Designed by Stadium Custom Kicks, they are a matte dark gray that fades to a silvery light-gray at the toes. There is a faint pattern that could be described as lightning or reflections on water, a softer version of the Air Jordan concrete pattern.
On the right shoe, his daughters names, Makaylah Grace, 3, and Ahmya Rose, 8 months, along with their birth dates are written on the outside and inside curves around the toe.
His left toe has a red G on it, representing his foundation, which he said will hopefully inspire his daughters to someday give back, too.
While Givens’ dark grey cleats blend in with the all-black uniforms the Orioles will be wearing, some of his teammates have flashy cleats that will stand out.
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When walking around the clubhouse, Trey Mancini’s cleats immediately stick out. They’re bright green and yellow with a shiny gold sole. Mancini said he’s representing Notre Dame, and the pair was sent to him by the baseball team, who wears the same shoes.
Jace Peterson’s shoes, pointed out by Bleier, have a similar color theme. They represent Mardi Gras and have green, purple and gold beads painted on them, while the laces are shiny gold.
Chance Sisco’s left and right shoe are different. The left represents Sisco’s dog, teammate Stevie Wilkerson said, and the right has a beachy theme.
Manager Brandon Hyde recommended taking a closer look at Wilkerson’s cleats.
They are primarily gray with red accents, but on the back they have a sketch of Shane Falco, the quarterback from the movie “Replacements.” It’s one of his favorite movies, he said, and it has the quote “Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever,” on it.
Around the horn
The Orioles placed right-hander Shawn Armstrong on the injured list with a right forearm strain and recalled Dillon Tate from Triple-A Norfolk. … Chris Davis was in the lineup for the first time in five games, batting eighth and playing first base.