Orioles’ FanFest is an annual celebration where the fans interact with some of their favorite players. The Mount Saint Joe baseball program gets invited back to help out with Fan Fest every year. To preview FanFest for this year, I sat down with Mr. Harris, the head coach of the varsity baseball team, to ask him some questions regarding St. Joe’s participation in Orioles FanFest.
Jake Howell: What is your favorite memory from any of the FanFests the team has attended?
Mr. Jody Harris: Well I’d have to say when Steve Clevenger got traded to the Orioles, that was kind of a pretty special thing. Not only were we interacting with the Orioles and helping them promote baseball in Baltimore, but the fact that we had a personal connection with one of the players was special for me having coached him. It was a pretty neat thing for our players to be around someone who played in the same program that they’re playing in.
JH: Who are some Orioles players you have talked to over the years?
MH: I’ve talked to a significant number of them. It’s been my experience that for the most part those guys are pretty accommodating and just regular guys. I mean, we see them as supermen because they’re professional athletes, but the fact is they’re just regular people. I remember interacting with players who were long shots to make the team, and when they made the team I sort of felt a connection to them. For example, last year I sat next to Jimmy Paredes, waiting for one of the instructional times to come up. He doesn’t speak very much English, but I was able to communicate with him and the Chick-Fil-A cow. That is what we had in common, that we both liked chicken. But the fact of the matter was he was a long shot to make the team, and then he had the best spring of his career and made the team out of spring training. Then I felt a connection to Jimmy Paredes all year-long, because of the chicken-cow connection.
JH: How do you think the Orioles’ players rub off on our players?
MH: I would say that generally the players are good role models for our guys. They see how those players interact with the community, they see how they interact with the kids, and more often than not those players are pretty friendly to our players too, so I think generally our players have come away with a pretty good feeling about those guys. It’s kind of neat to have been next to and helped in an instructional phase with a player that you see on TV that season. That’s kind of a neat thing I think is an outcome of our participation in FanFest. There have been some instances where I have been disappointed in some of the ways the players interacted with our guys and with the fans, but overall their actions have been positive.
JH: How did St. Joe’s participation in FanFest come together?
MH: I am not exactly positive, but I know that Mr. Norton and Mr. Cameron run the Brooks Robinson High School All-Star Game, which is played at Camden Yards, and used to be in conjunction with the Orioles. So Mr. Norton has had a pretty long relationship with the Orioles, particularly people in their marketing department. I remember that it was the Crown All-Star Game at the time when Baltimore hosted the MLB All-Star Game, and the players that were chosen for the Crown All-Star Game were the ones that shagged flies for the Home Run Derby contest, so that connection goes back quite a long ways. I believe that was maybe 1993, so Mount Saint Joe and the Baltimore Orioles have had a pretty strong working relationship for a number of years.
JH: How did Steve Clevenger react when he found out he was being traded to the Baltimore Orioles?
MH: Well, I remember being in touch with him and how excited he was to be coming back to Baltimore. The downside was he also knew that the Orioles had Matt Wieters and that it would be difficult to compete for a regular job. So while it was exciting to come back to his home team, he also recognized that it may have been a more difficult path to stay in the major leagues than it would have been with the [Chicago] Cubs. Having said that, I think that Steve, who has now been traded to the Seattle Mariners, did the best with his opportunity here. He could not have had a stronger spring last spring, and he made the Opening Day roster. Then, unfortunately, he was optioned out after the first game, and that is because he had options. Because he had options, he did not have a lot of leverage for negotiation, and it was easy for the Orioles to send him down. And from what I understand, the life of a Triple-A player and the life of a Major League player are significantly different, not just to mention the pay check.
JH: In your opinion, how has his playing days at MSJ influenced the way he holds himself in the game today?
MH: I would like to think that St. Joe had quite a bit to do with the kind of character and man that he is. Obviously most of that comes from his family, but I think being a part of this community and being a part of this program helped him compete at a high level. It also put him in position where he had to handle himself in public because we’re a high-profile program, and he was one of the best players on a high-profile program. I think that was valuable for him to be mature enough to handle the adjustment to professional baseball.
JH: Mount Saint Joe is the only high school that helps out at FanFest. What makes MSJ stand out above other schools?
MH: From a practical standpoint, we had the connection. From the point of view as to why we’ve maintained that position with the Orioles, it’s because of the way that we do what we say we are going to do. When we say we are going to volunteer, we have people there who pay attention to the thing they are supposed to pay attention to. Now, if you’re a player and you’re running a station that has kids hitting a wiffle ball with a wiffle ball bat on a tee, and you man that station for an hour, it can be easy for you to lose your focus or concern for the next person in line. But what I think our guys recognize is that for that kid, that’s his time. We give him the attention that he deserves as if it was one of our guys who was up next. I think that attention to detail, that recognition about the importance of what it is that we are doing, and that it is a reflection on the Baltimore Orioles is a reason why the Orioles continue to ask us back.
This year, the Orioles FanFest is Saturday, December 12.