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Via LUNGevity, 12U team gets Camden Yards experience

Savage Eagles work with Hardy, Dickerson after raising $4,000 for opportunity

BALTIMORE -- The Savage Eagles had to write their way to Camden Yards. Or so they were told.

The coaches of the 12U travel baseball team from Savage, Md., told their players that the Orioles were holding an essay competition on what it takes to be the best teammate, and that the team with the best stories would get to practice at the ballpark. Upon finishing the essays, the coaches had each player read their assignment aloud so the team could hear different perspectives on being the perfect teammate.

"I think the kids probably went home and did better than they would have done in their English classes on those essays," said head coach Adam Leader.

In reality, Leader, who is a big memorabilia buff, was searching online and came across an opportunity to take part in fielding drills with O's shortstop J.J. Hardy and third-base coach Bobby Dickerson.

The chance came by way of an auction at the MLB Winter Meetings where LUNGevity -- a nonprofit organization aimed at raising money for life-saving lung cancer research and creating awareness about the disease -- was chosen as the beneficiary for the Winter Meetings Auction in tribute to the late Monica Barlow.

Video: Showalter on Monica Barlow, LUNGevity causeBarlow was the former public relations director for the Orioles who passed away in February 2014 at the age of 36 as a result of stage 4 lung cancer. Barlow had been a spokesperson and a participant in LUNGevity's Breathe Deep Baltimore and Washington walks, and she would have celebrated her 38th birthday last week.

"Monica Barlow means a lot to us, and the LUNGevity Foundation is very important to this organization and to us as individuals," Dickerson said. "Anything we can do to help, we welcome it."

The Eagles pooled together money from the 12 families on the team and raised about $4,000 for the opportunity, which was even sweeter due to the team missing a chance to play in a tournament in Cooperstown, N.Y., this summer.

The players were simply told that they would have practice at Camden Yards, and they were unaware of the celebrities that would be joining them.

"It was so surprising, because we didn't know [about them]," 13-year-old player Connor Edwards said. "[Hardy and Dickerson] coming out and teaching us some skills was really fun."

The players worked at shortstop with Hardy and Dickerson, focusing on forehand and backhand plays, as well as some turns at second base. The Eagles, who are 20-0 this season, looked smooth fielding the position and even turned some heads.

"A lot of the 12-year-olds were a lot better than I expected," Hardy said. "They got some good coaching."

The team spent about 45 minutes working with the O's, and the players concluded the experience with a tour of Camden Yards and lunch at Dempsey's on Eutaw Street. The players and coaches took group photos with Hardy.

"It's definitely going to be an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives, which was our big reason for doing this," Leader said.

Connor Smolensky is an associate reporter for
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