Daishaun Thorne picked up his lunch tray. Behind him, Patrick Starck grabbed a tray before the twosome settled at a cafeteria table at Orchard Park Elementary School.
Then the talk begins. And it's the best, Thorne said.
"I have fun," Thorne, an 11-year-old fifth-grade student said. "I get to talk baseball, basketball and football."
And 26-year-old Starck gets to leave work behind and be a kid again.
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"When I hang out with the kids, it lightens my day," said Starck, a media relations manager for the Charlotte Knights Baseball Club. "I had forgotten all the games they play during lunch and what they talk about. I feel like I'm in the fifth grade again."
Last week's lunch retreat is tradition for the Starck and Thorne. The lunch buddies meet every Thursday for about 25 minutes. Eight other full time Charlotte Knights employees also meet with 11 other Fort Mill students once a week, Starck said. All of the buddies will meet later this month for lunch at Knights Stadium.
"Our goal is really to have something fun and unique that we can do," Starck said. "All kids should know about baseball. It's a fun game."
During an April 2 lunch, the two munched chicken nuggets amidst Thorne's classmates.
"I love kids," Starck said. "Being around them is fun. In some ways, I feel like I'm buddies with the whole class. Within five minutes, it's them asking me ridiculous questions."
And Thursday lunches always have a best part -- right behind the chicken nuggets, Thorne said.
"When he comes," Thorne said with a big smile and wide eyes as he opened his chocolate milk.
The two have met for lunch since October. The visits are food for the soul, said Thorne's teacher, Michelle Gamble.
"His spirits are brighter," she said of Thorne. "He looks forward to Thursdays. Patrick interacts with Daishaun and the whole table. Sometimes, I have to calm him down."
Back at the table, Thorne and Starck get down to business.
"He makes me eat my food," Thorne said.
"It's joking around," Starck said between bites. "Boys' stuff."
They talk about Thorne, his schoolwork, video games, what Starck does at work and how it feels to have his job. More often than not, the conversation goes outfield.
"How could you strike out?" a student asked.
"Throw a curve ball," another student offered.
"I get my grip on and throw my curveball," Thorne said.
"You put a spin on it?" Starck asked.
The talk changed to baseball gear. More boys' stuff.
Then Thorne glanced at Starck.
"He always comes, and he makes everybody laugh," Thorne said. "He makes me laugh."
But the lunch stint is about more than fun and games. It teaches Thorne that he has someone outside his normal circle in his corner.
"I missed one lunch when I went to London," Starck said. "I was like, 'I wonder if he's going to ask where I am.'
The missed visit didn't go unnoticed, Starck said.
"He came up and asked, 'Where were you last week?''" recalled Starck, who hasn't missed another lunch but will miss Thursday's lunch because of the Knights' opening day which kicks off their 2009 season.
During last week's lunch,Thorne offered up a wish: He wants his lunch buddy to transition with him to middle school next year.
"I'll stay," Starck said.
Satisfied, Thorne popped another nugget, and the conversation moved on.
More boys' stuff with no strike outs.
From her perch a table over, Gamble watched. She didn't have to separate "the boys."
"Not today," she quipped. "They're good."