On the Road: Doing It the Ripken Way in Aberdeen
Sorry that it has taken me this long to get a blog post up this week, but please know that it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve been traveling through the great states of Pennsylvania and Maryland, taking impromptu naps in deserted Boscov’s parking lots and ordering scrapple at diners as part of a self-conscious attempt to display my Keystone State bona fides.
But who cares about any of that? What matters is the present, and at the present I’m writing to you from a budget-conscious place of lodging in the fine city of Aberdeen, MD. This evening I watched a baseball game, in which the hometown IronBirds lost to the Tri-City ValleyCats by a score of 16-1.
The game took place at Ripken Stadium, named after hometown hero (and team owner) Cal Ripken Jr.
I had never been to a game here, although I’ve passed the stadium on numerous occasions while driving to destinations since forgotten on I95.
But the view from the road did not prepare me for the reality of the situation, as Ripken Stadium is located on a vast expanse of land.
But the endless horizon of the parking lot doesn’t even begin to tell the story. Shortly after arriving at the ballpark, I visited the press box. Here’s the view from up there:
The view toward the press box:
And there’s plenty of room to move just outside of the press box as well.
Such Brobdingnagian proportions left this Lilliputian blogger feeling disoriented, so I traveled outside for some fresh air.
Beyond left field was the sprawling grounds of the Ripken Academy, a center for youth baseball training and tournaments.
And next to it was a Courtyard Marriot, its architecture influenced by the warehouse surroundings of Baltimore’s Camden Yards.
Clearly, this needed to be explored.So, you know, I did.
The Ripken Academy grounds are truly impressive, even without this bronzed Cal there to greet you.
Rules to live by:
Each of the seven fields are named after a big league stadium.
And, yes, this Wrigley in miniature features ivy on the outfield walls.
It’s just too bad that those outfield dimensions reference Manhattan’s area code; can’t the Second City ever escape the shadow of the Big Apple?
But the crown jewel of the youth baseball complex is “Senior’s Yard”, modeled after the aforementioned Camden Yard’s and named after Cal Ripken, Sr.
This was a true youth baseball palace, a fitting homebase for the annual Cal Ripken World Series (an international tournament of the Babe Ruth League’s 12-year-old division). This year’s series took place from August 12-21, running concurrently (but not in concert) with the Little League World Series in Williamsport (also a New York-Penn League city).
This overload of parenthetical asides makes me wish I could communicate in the manner of Cal, Sr: pithy yet poignant.
And speaking of the game of baseball, that’s what I was there to see! So back to Ripken Stadium I went. I checked out an upstairs museum display…
and witnessed some bullpen pillow talk…
and soon enough it was time for the game to begin:
It was also time for the eating to begin! All of the Picnic Pavillion and Party Deck tables were covered like this for a reason…
The team sells all-you-can-eat crab feast group seating tickets, but this delectable steamed crustacean can be purchased at the Crab Shack for $24/dozen (or $36/two dozen or $115/bushel).
A variety of other food options could be found on the concourse…
but as the night wore on I found myself feeling quite jealous of these folks, munchin’ in the gloamin’.
But eating a dozen crabs, by myself, next to all my blogging and journalistic accoutrements was an untenable proposition. I settled for this $7 crab pretzel, topped with cheese and coated with a liberal amount of Old Bay seasoning.
I smashed it with a mallet before eating, but it wasn’t the same. Still good, though — and a meal in and of itself!
As mentioned in my MiLB.com piece, the IronBirds are in the midst of a decade-long sell-out streak. This doesn’t mean that all the seats are necessarily full — just that they’ve been sold. And a big part of the reason they’ve been sold are a strong season ticket base. Many of the stadium’s chairs are marked as such:
And the crowd that was there thrilled to the several between-inning performances of the Bucket Boys, a quartet of premier plastic percussionists.
I had seen video of these guys before, but they were even better live. Amazing stickwork and artful choregoraphy, and very well-suited for two-minute inning breaks.
But as for on-field highlights, there were very few. As mentioned at the top of this post, the IronBirds lost by a score of 16-1. The ValleyCats were just too much to handle.
Also too much to handle — the task of keeping my eyes open. Sorry for the uninspired conclusion, but it’s time to go gently into that good night.