ARUNDEL MILLS, Md. -- As the group of 80 third- through fifth-grade students from John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School spilled into the Skyline Showroom at Dave & Buster's in the Arundel Mills Mall, the children's eyes widened. Some of their favorite Orioles were waiting for them.Timothy Beckham, Trey Mancini and Mike
ARUNDEL MILLS, Md. -- As the group of 80 third- through fifth-grade students from John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle School spilled into the Skyline Showroom at Dave & Buster's in the Arundel Mills Mall, the children's eyes widened. Some of their favorite Orioles were waiting for them.
Timothy Beckham, Trey Mancini and Mike Wright joined former players Larry Bigbie, Al Bumbry and Scott McGregor and MASN broadcaster Jim Hunter to welcome the students to the 39th annual OriolesREACH holiday party. The Baltimore sports icons served lunch, played games, signed autographed baseball cards and took photos with the kids, who attend one of the city's largest English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) sites located in the area's southeast region.
"This is a fantastic event," John Ruhrah assistant principal Pamela Zavala said. "I'm so happy for our kids. One of them ran off the bus this morning and said, 'This is the best day of my life,' and they hadn't even made it inside the building yet."
Hunter welcomed the students while they strolled past the Christmas tree and filed into the open space decorated with holiday charm. Orioles backpacks, bat and ball sets, games, books and knit hats lined the table at the front of the room. Each kid got to take home one of each before retuning to school, and for many of them, they were the only gifts they will receive this holiday season.
"I'm getting a present?" one of the girls asked Zavala. "I've never gotten a present before."
It was a pleasant escape from the daily grind of school at John Ruhrah, which enrolls more than 800 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and is made up of more than 75 percent Hispanic and Latino students.
"Who wants to do more homework or who wants to play some games?" Hunter asked the children.
"Games!" they shouted, before embarking on a playful journey through the wonderland that is the arcade at Dave & Buster's.
Two kids challenged Beckham and the Orioles' Santa Bird to a game of air hockey. Mancini helped children drop the claw directly upon a prized stuffed animal. Wright partook in a virtual automobile race. It was a day filled with fun and joy.
"It feels great, really happy to be here and have a fun day with the kids here," Mancini said. "That's what [the holiday] season is all about is doing things like this and having a good time with the community."
Added Beckham: "Just to get up here and be able to be a part of this and being able to give back is huge."
Each year, the Orioles select a different group of children in need in the Baltimore area. This year the club left the students from John Ruhrah with smiles on their faces and lasting memory as the holiday season approaches.
"I just want to thank the Orioles for selecting us," Zavala said. "We do our best as a school to help the families that we can, but having an organization step into help and make their holiday extra special is really great."
Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.