Besotted by Baseball: Teen Super Fan Bucks Trend, Wins Orioles “Magic Moment” Competition

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Gilman senior Ben Auwaerter impersonating former Oriole player, Mike Devereaux.
Gilman senior and contest winner Ben Auwaerter impersonating former Oriole Mike Devereaux.

As sports lovers go, baseball fan Ben Auwaerter is somewhat of a throwback.

While fast, hard-driving games like soccer, basketball and football (and, here in Baltimore, of course, lacrosse) have captured the hearts of countless young fans in recent years, baseball has plummeted in the ranks of America’s favorite sports—at least among young fans.

Statistics prove it. The number of children ages six and older playing on baseball teams declined from 16 million to 12 million in just five years (between 2007 and 2012), according to data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Writing in The Atlantic last year, Chris Beneke eloquently summarized his take on why kids are turning their backs on baseball for other pastimes, like fast-moving video games and football: “None of these new activities involved standing in an outfield, waiting futilely for a ball to bounce into your vicinity. And none of them required the patient apprenticeship, the grinding repetition, or the daunting precision that the subtle craft of baseball was intended to inspire.”

Interestingly, the very reasons Beneke gives for kids turning their backs on baseball happen to be some of the same ones that have drawn Ben Auwaerter, a 17-year-old Gilman senior, into the game. “The slow pace of the game intrigued me,” Ben said. “There are a lot of statistics in the game, and that sets it apart.”

Maybe it’s this mature outlook that has inspired Ben to spend years following the Orioles. Whatever the case, this season he became a truly active fan by making a creative and award-winning video for an Orioles contest and then spending the summer interning with the Orioles organization.

His involvement with the Orioles this season was so incredibly prescient—the team clinched the American League Division Championship for the first time since 1997—that it almost begs the question: Did Ben Auwaerter know this was the year to step up to the plate, so to speak? Is he some sort of clairvoyant fan? We’ll never know for sure. Regardless, his show of passion for the Orioles this season has been pretty impressive.

It started with the Orioles’ ‘My Magic Moment’ video contest he entered last spring. Tim Lauer, Ben’s science teacher, knew Ben was an Orioles fan and suggested they enter the contest, part of a season-long celebration of the Orioles’ sixtieth anniversary.

The requirements? Replicate a classic ‘Orioles moment’ in a video.

That month’s chosen ‘moment’ took place in June of 1992, when Orioles’ Mike Devereaux robbed Kansas City Royal’s Joe Carter of a home run by making an incredible catch at the wall. In Ben’s version of the magical moment, Tim Lauer plays then-Orioles pitcher Rick Sutcliffe. Larry Sheets—Gilman’s head Varsity baseball coach, Lower School gym teacher, and former Orioles player—stands in as Joe Carter. But Ben steals the show. He depicts Mike Devereaux, making a rather convincing leap against the ‘wall’. As the fans (aka Ben’s classmates) cheer, Ben tips his cap to the crowd.

“We didn’t try to get funny about it. We did a straight replication,” Ben said.

It worked. They won that month’s contest. The prize included four lower-deck tickets to an Orioles game. It happened to be Derek Jeter’s last game at the Yard. It was a special night for baseball fans. By that point in the season, Ben had watched plenty of games at the Yard—primarily from the press box.

Interested in sports journalism, Ben last spring spring interviewed and secured a summer internship with the Orioles’ Public Relations Office. On the first day of his internship, Ben was informed that there would be an editorial meeting to plan content for upcoming issues of Orioles Magazine—in an hour. He came prepared, scribbling down some possible ideas for articles, one on ‘the shift’ (non-baseball folks, ask a fan) and the other on Steve Pearce. Both were worked into future publications. Then Ben got really bold.

“I said that I would enjoy writing one of these articles,” Ben recalled.

He ended up writing two articles for Orioles Magazine. One highlighted an endowment launched by the Orioles and others called Shannon’s Fund, named for Shannon Obaker, former Orioles’ beloved Outreach Coordinator who lost her battle with cancer in 2007 at age 29. The other, Dreams Come True, told of the ascent of three Orioles’ rookies to the major leagues: Kevin Gausman, Caleb Joseph, and Jonathan Schoop.

Asked what it was like talking to major league baseball players, Ben admitted he was a little nervous when interviewing Gausman, the first source he reached for the article. That it was over the phone may have helped Ben keep his composure. “I’m not sure he knew how old I was,” he said with a smile. After that, Ben spoke easily to Joseph, whom he tracked down in the hallway outside the clubhouse, and Schoop, whose interview took place in the clubhouse.

In addition to writing articles for Orioles Magazine, Ben counts watching games in the press box with members of the media and the Orioles staff as a highlight of the internship. “For the most part, everybody tried to stay quiet during the games. But there was one play, when Machado threw out LA Angels’ player Albert Pujols from foul territory, that everybody in the press box ‘wowed’ in unison,” said Ben, with a discernable twinkle in his eye.

At the time of the interview with Ben, he hadn’t yet scored tickets to any postseason games. Right now, he says, he’s too worried about pulling together his high school yearbook (he’s the editor) and applying to colleges to scout for tickets. But he’ll find time to keep tabs on the Orioles’ postseason performance.

“We have a pretty potent lineup. I think other teams have better pitching. But I think we have a good shot [at winning the World Series],” he said.

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