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02/07/12 4:02 PM EST

Memorabilia gallery a memorable experience

Casey on hand at Green Diamond speaking engagement

When I accepted my position as youth correspondent for MLB.com, I had no idea what was coming my way.

I was recently contacted by the Green Diamond Gallery in Montgomery, Ohio, with an invitation for me to introduce Cincinnati Reds hometown hero Sean Casey for an event. I immediately accepted, despite a few initial doubts as to the quality of my public-speaking skills!

And so it was, a few weeks and plenty of rehearsing later, that I arrived at the Green Diamond. I'd never been there before, but heard that it boasted an impressive collection, so I was eager to check it out for myself.

But, as I soon discovered, "impressive collection" was a huge understatement. The Green Diamond, composed entirely of a single man's memorabilia, boasts thousands of signatures from the game's best, as well as scores of game-used and autographed jerseys, bats and even historical documents.

Green Diamond general manager Kevin Manley gave me an abbreviated tour before I took the podium, although Manley estimates he needs a full 90 minutes to completely make the rounds with a guest.

Some of my favorite pieces included a document signed by Shoeless Joe Jackson that is one of 10 Shoeless Joe signatures known to exist (Jackson was illiterate and traced his wife's signature), a few of the gallery's 11 Babe Ruth autographs, and a Roberto Clemente game-used bat that Manley graciously allowed me to hold.

Manley explained that the Green Diamond's sister non-profit, Character and Courage -- which provides kids with physical disabilities, life-threatening illnesses, or impoverished backgrounds an opportunity to play baseball -- is based on the legacy of three players: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, all of whom are featured prominently in the gallery. I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the Green Diamond's connection to Robinson, just like the Breaking Barriers contest centered on Robinson's character.

Before the event began, I was privileged to meet Casey himself. Casey was extremely kind to my family and I, and he even took time to answer a few of my questions.

Of his own memorabilia collection, Casey said his favorite piece is a pair of autographed bases he acquired as a player with the Red Sox. Casey purchased several bases from the last season at the original Yankee Stadium and had one autographed by the entire Yankee team and the other signed by the Red Sox to commemorate the famed rivalry.

I also asked Casey what his favorite memory from his career is, to which he replied that he fondly recalls his home run in the 2006 World Series while with Detroit. As a kid, Casey dreamed of hitting a home run in the World Series, but never thought it would actually come true.

Before I knew it, 7 o'clock, my scheduled speaking time, had rolled around. Manley opened the program as I nervously looked on. Then I saw Manley beckon for me to join him at the podium. Drawing a deep breath, I launched into my speech.

"It's my pleasure and honor to present the Mayor, Sean Casey!" I finished. Relief washed over me -- I'd done my job. When Casey took the podium, he joked that the only person that could've done a better job introducing him was his mother. I'm not sure about that, but I guess I did an OK job!

My speaking engagement at the Green Diamond was truly an amazing and humbling experience, and it left me wondering what my journey with MLB.com holds next. I can't wait to find out.

Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.