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Current, former Orioles join MLBPA in event supporting Baltimore's James Mosher Baseball

Clad in his Orioles youth baseball jersey, a young boy posed for photographs in front of a media scrum Saturday. Behind him, Hall of Famer Frank Robinson rested his right hand on the boy's shoulder.

The picture his mom pushed through the crowd to take will surely be shared with family and friends for years to come. And one day when he is older, he will fully understand the greatness that graced him that hot summer day on the diamond adjacent to James Mosher Elementary School in West Baltimore.

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But Saturday wasn't about the youngsters understanding the history of the iconic players with whom they shared the field — just 1 1/2 miles south of Mondawmin Mall, where rioting broke out April 27. Instead, it was about the Major League Baseball Players Association showing a community less than two months removed from civil unrest that it cares about the children in the James Mosher Baseball youth league.

"This is the perfect time after the situation here [in late April] for the sports families to get in here and let these people know that we are staying with them, and we are here to try to help them," Robinson said. "We want these kids to understand that they have someone to look up to and someone that cares about them and wants to be involved with them."

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Robinson was joined by other members of the union, past and present, including MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, former Orioles Eric Davis and Jeffrey Hammonds, and current Orioles Adam Jones and Delmon Young. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was also in attendance and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

"James Mosher has been a steadfast part of this community for decades, and to see this tradition not just continue but flourish gives me a lot of pride," Rawlings-Blake said. "You see these kids out here, they are learning the important skills of teamwork, of integrity, of hard work."

The James Mosher league began in 1960 and is believed to be the oldest continually operating African-American youth baseball organization in the country. Robinson and Jones alluded to the decline in African-Americans in baseball, and said they hope visiting leagues like James Mosher will help change that.

They didn't just preach baseball, either. Union members stressed the importance of education to the young players.

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"They are fresh," Robinson said. "Their mindset hasn't been set yet, and they just are looking for someone to give them direction, someone to guide them and give them good information."

Still, it seemed important that it was America's pastime the kids gathered to play — a sport Clark said everyone, whether tall, short, fast or slow, can participate in.

"Baseball oftentimes is the respite," Clark said. "It's the one thing that brings communities together and affords kids an opportunity — and parents, adults an opportunity — to distract themselves from what may have happened during the week or any of the challenges they may be going through."

And given what the city has been through, a normal Saturday in June was important for James Mosher. Hammonds said the players could've put on a clinic, but instead chose to simply watch the youngsters in action, only addressing them before the games and donating equipment after.

With cameras lining the third base line and baseball greats looking on, the kids settled in and played the game they all love.

"Baseball has such a strong tradition in our country," Rawlings-Blake said. "It makes sense that we use it as a tool to help our young people."

The kids did get a chance to meet their current hometown hero at the end of the event. They hustled after Jones as he walked toward the mound, many holding out balls and hats for him to autograph.

He addressed the crowd before fielding questions from the youngsters: "How do I get better?" "How do you hit so many home runs in a season?"

It was a special moment for a community seeking normalcy.

"I couldn't imagine seeing the guys that I saw on TV, let alone the one that I idolized as a kid," Clark said. "So as a young kid having an opportunity to see, touch, hear from the one person that I would love to be when I grew up, it's invaluable."

On the main field minutes before Jones arrived, the Orioles of the 9-12 age bracket walked off with a victory on a wild pitch over the Twins. It was a fitting result for the occasion, but an outcome that will soon be forgotten.

Getting a chance to meet Jones and other major league greats were the moments the young players will never forget.

"It's about the kids," Jones said. "They are the ones that are going to have to go home and reminisce on all this stuff. … And hopefully their parents can let it sink in and the kids can understand the support that not just myself but baseball and the union has behind them."

twitter.com/RyanBaillargeon

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