I couldn’t arrange a late checkout in Harrisburg on the night of June 24, so I made the drive to Aberdeen, MD, and arrived in town about five hours before the Aberdeen IronBirds were set to play the Staten Island Yankees. As I was staying in a Super 8 for the night (ugh) I didn’t want to hang out at my motel all afternoon. Instead, I went to Ripken Stadium to check out the enormous Ripken complex.
The IronBirds are owned by Cal Ripken, Jr., one of my favorite ball players of all time. They play at Ripken Stadium, which is in the midst of a giant slice of baseball heaven.
I’ve been to two New York-Penn League ballparks in the past — Falcon Park in Auburn, NY, and Eastwood Field in Niles, OH. Each has its charms and I especially loved Falcon Park. Ripken Stadium, however, is more like a AA facility. It’s enormous, yet has an intimate vibe, and there are a ton of things to see before the gates open.
If you’re staying in the area, there’s a giant Marriott across the parking lot from the ballpark:
I took my customary walk around the stadium and because it was so early, no one was hitting. I decided, however, to see if I could find any balls beyond the outfield fence from previous batting practices or games. I went back to the area and hit the jackpot! Look what I saw a minute after scouring the grass:
An NYPL ball to add to my collection:
After a few more minutes of looking, I found three more to bring my total to four:
With nothing else in sight, I stopped to take a quick panorama through the open outfield gate (the players were playing Frisbee) …
… then went back to my hotel to find out the Internet didn’t work. (Hence my delay in getting these posts up.)
A couple hours later, I returned to Ripken Stadium and went back behind the fence again. To get there, you can walk through the players’ parking lot. You can always tell it’s the players’ lot when you see rims like these:
By now, the IronBirds were hitting (see how they have to wear helmets for BP at this level?):
I took up a good spot behind the left field fence, where I could also watch the Yankees in their bullpen:
The area back here was full of old equipment, machinery and other stadium stuff. But it was prime ball-catching territory:
I even climbed up on a platform to take a panorama over the fence:
But soon, I found this hill was the place to stand:
Up here, I had a clear view of the goings-on, which was ideal for tracking balls. I didn’t have any luck with the IronBirds hitters, but once Staten Island took the cage, I quickly got three more, including this one marked with “SI” lettering:
BP soon wrapped up, and I was excited at being able to snag seven baseballs. In my three games this trip, I’d managed 10 balls! I made my way back around to the front of the stadium, which looks amazing. It’s done in a lot of brick, giving it a Camden Yards feel:
I bought my ticket …
… then, with time to kill before the gates opened, toured a bunch more of the Ripken complex. The entire area has 10 different diamonds ranging from small, infield practice areas to large, perfectly manicured setups. There were hundreds of kids playing and it was awesome just to take it all in.
There’s a statue of the man himself:
His parents’ garden:
And a bunch of nice stadiums:
With the gates about to open, I ventured back to Ripken Stadium and lined up to go in. Once I got in, I immediately checked out the huge team shop …
… which also featured a bunch of Ripken-autographed memorabilia:
After looking around the store, I went out into the concourse and walked down to the left field corner. This is the view from here:
As you can see, there’s a huge, multi-level deck and plenty of seating. Speaking of decks and seating, the whole stadium had a ton of cool places to sit. This is the multi-level deck in the right field corner:
What was taking place on that deck? Crab!
Yep, you can buy whole crab by the dozen or even by the bushel at Ripken Stadium. Tables are covered in brown paper; you dump out the crab and go to town with wooden hammers and your fingers. There are no superlatives to describe this situation:
Because I bought my ticket the day of the game, I was only able to get a standing room only spot. The box office guy told me to just move down and take an empty seat, which is exactly what I did. I sat behind a railing down the first base line for the first couple innings with this view:
Then, I decided to go back to the team shop and buy an IronBirds cap. There was a clearance rack with $10 hats, and I bought the team’s home one:
By now, the smell of crab and Old Bay seasoning wafting through the air was making me hungry. I didn’t have the nerve to order a dozen crab by myself, but after scouring the seafood menu, decided on a crab cake sandwich:
I’ve had some pretty good ballpark food over the last couple summers. Off the top of my head, the gourmet mac and cheese at Rochester’s Frontier Field, the wings at Rogers Centre and the Philly cheesesteak in Lansing come to mind. But the crab cake sandwich smoked them all. It was the single best thing I’ve eaten at a ballpark. I can’t explain how good it is; if you go to Ripken Stadium, eat one. I limited myself to one because at $9 each, I knew two would only turn into five, and before long, I’d have spent $45 on crab cake sandwiches. It was just that good.
I forced myself to stop thinking about my grumbling stomach and focused on the game. The NYPL is Short-Season A ball, so the season only began a week or so ago. As a result, you get guys with funny batting averages. Look at the variance among these three players:
I spent a good part of the game at my stop behind the railing on the first base side. Later, though, I moved behind the plate to catch the action …
… then over to the third base side:
This game, though clocked at 2:51, seemed to go quickly. (Perhaps that’s because I spent a good three innings thinking about my sandwich.) The IronBirds couldn’t get anything going, and lost 7-1.
Thanks, Aberdeen, for a great time. Tomorrow, I’ll head to Bowie, MD, to watch the Orioles’ AA team, the Baysox, in action against the Binghamton Mets.