When Ebony Johnson learned that she and her softball team would spend MLB All-Star Week in Minneapolis, she admitted to being a little more excited than her players.
"They're just 11 and 12 years old," she said. "So many of them haven't left the city. Some of them haven't left the state. Some of them have never flown before. But they are very excited about it."
Johnson coaches the 12-and-under softball team affiliated with the Orioles' Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities program, a youth outreach initiative that promotes interest in baseball. Major League Baseball selected the team to participate in the 2014 All-Star Jr. RBI Classic, a friendly tournament held each year during MLB All-Star Week.
MLB will provide the teams with uniforms, equipment and All-Star apparel. Johnson's team is scheduled to play two games Friday, Saturday and Monday. On Sunday, they'll attend a series of clinics to learn and refine baseball and softball skills.
In addition to playing in what Johnson called a "noncompetitive weekend," the girls will get to experience most of the All-Star Week events firsthand.
The team has been invited to watch the All-Star Futures Game, Legends & Celebrity Softball Game, Home Run Derby and All-Star Game. Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. and Roberto Alomar also are expected to be in attendance for the tournament's opening ceremony Thursday.
The team's itinerary is jam-packed, and with MLB and the Orioles footing the bill, it's almost like a weeklong vacation.
"From the time we touch base in Minnesota to the time we leave," Johnson said, "we're constantly on the move, meeting people and doing stuff."
Johnson said she's most looking forward to the social aspect of the trip. Her roster is composed of girls from four different softball teams, all of which were part of the Orioles' RBI program. The coach said she's hoping this experience will bring the team closer together.
"The Jr. RBI Classic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will be both enriching and fun for these young men and women," said David James, senior director of the RBI program. "These kids will have an unforgettable All-Star experience that they will carry for the rest of their lives, and we are very proud to provide this opportunity to them."
One of the team's assistant coaches, Will Bydume, has twins on the team, Tamia and Tamya, who both pitch and play mostly in the infield. When they were introduced to softball just three years ago, he couldn't have imagined this kind of opportunity.
Today, the game is a huge part of their lives: They watch a lot of college softball and attend Morgan State home games whenever they can.
"Now they're going to play kids from all different places," Bydume said. "They just love the game. They're looking forward to it."