Saturday, August 8, 2015

Connecticut Tigers 3 at Aberdeen IronBirds 2 (New York-Penn League) - August 5, 2015


There's only about 100 miles  between Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown and Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, but that trip can take you 70 years! Whereas Municipal Stadium was opened in 1930 and has barely changed since then, Ripken Stadium was opened in 2002 and is one of the most complete minor league ballparks I have seen. Not surprising given that Cal Ripken Jr. owns the franchise.



The stadium is easily visible from I-95; from exit 85 you take MD-22 to Long Drive (ha!) and make your way around to the free parking lot. This is the only similarity to the ballpark in Hagerstown. Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, as it is now referred to, is obviously different as soon as you approach and notice the sports car in front - this is going to be given away at the end of the season as part of a contest.



Tickets here are not cheap, especially for Short Season A ball. The Reserve Box at $11.50 is perfectly fine, though I was fortunate to find a season ticket holder with an extra in the second row behind the Aberdeen on-deck circle.



Check out the ducat below - this is more impressive than most MLB season tickets! Cal Ripken Jr. does not cut corners.



The concourse is spacious and there are three major concessions along each baseline, all offering very tempting fare. I tried a ham panini ($7) and must say that it is one of the better stadium items I have had as it is cooked after you order it, so it comes steaming hot and fresh. Another featured item was the Cal-Zone, a calzone with pepperoni (ha again!). So little brother Bill doesn't get jealous, there is the Bill-Zone (pepperoni, sausage, ham, and bacon), and to keep the rest of the (possibly vegetarian?) family happy, the Ripken-Zone (tomato, spinach, and feta cheese). At $8.50, I expect one of these will be more than enough to fill you up, but I'll have to make a return trip to verify.



The concourse is open to the field and even those cheap seats are close enough, as you can see below.



There is a hotel just on the other side of third base that is obviously meant to emulate Camden Yards  to some extent. There is a Ripken Baseball Camp held on nearby fields and the campers and their family stay here, with many attending the game at night. Cal understands vertical integration



There are your typical banners of former IronBirds around the concourse, including Kevin Gausmann, picked 4th overall in 2012.



As I took my seat, I notice a large indoor seating area above the concourse - this would be the club, and my ticket allowed for club access.



So I made my way up and found that there was a buffet ($21 and perhaps worth it if you are a big eater) but even more importantly, a few displays, including one devoted to the Negro Leagues and another to Cal himself. If your ticket doesn't include club access, you might be able to sweet talk your way up here, or find a season ticket holder who can loan you a stub temporarily.



My brief description really doesn't do Ripken Stadium justice. It is a complete stadium that has something for everyone (except the very bored lady next to me accompanying her camper son). The only negative, other than slightly overpriced tickets, is that exiting the parking lot postgame can take a while as there is only one way back to the highway. For me, it was a contrast in styles from the basics provided in aging Municipal Stadium. I personally prefer the older, barebones approach, but fully appreciate that minor league ball needs to provide entertainment beyond the game and the Aberdeen IronBirds do that from start to finish. If you happen to be driving down I-95 and there's a game that night, consider paying a visit and seeing the future of minor league baseball.

The Game



The Connecticut Tigers were in town with Tyler Alexander (2nd round, 2015, out of TCU, above) taking the hill. He pitched 3 hitless innings before being removed, having tossed just 34 pitches. A lot of these young guys are heavily used during the college season so in their first pro campaign they are protected but this was just silly. His offense gave him a run in the first on a leadoff single by Victor Padron, who went to second on a wild pitch from Jean Cosme (17th, 2014). Brett Pirtle (23rd, 2014) singled home Padron to open the scoring.



The Tigers added another run in the 4th on an RBI double from A.J. Simcox (14th, 2015) but Aberdeen got that one back when DJ Stewart (25th overall pick in 2015, above) walked, stole second and scored on a single from Steve Laurino (25th round, 2015, out of Marist). In the bottom of the 5th, Austin Pfeiffer (27th, 2014) led off with a grounder to short that was bobbled by Pirtle. A typical minor league moment but I noticed that the E in "Ripken Stadium" above the scoreboard flashed on and off to signify the error- truly a unique addition to the experience and one that had me chuckling for a while.


Cam Gibson, son of Kirk, rounds first on a fly out

Connecticut added a unearned run in the 6th on an error and two singles, but again Aberdeen responded quickly, plating one in the 7th. But Drew Smith (3rd, 2015) came on to pitch two perfect frames while striking out four to earn my Player To Watch award. As I write this, he has struck out 31 in 26.2 innings while walking only 4, so definitely someone to keep an eye on for Tiger fans.



Notes

Attendance was 3,832, more than 5 times the 717 at Hagerstown. Not sure how the Suns are surviving in a higher league but I guess the owner has deep pockets.

Best,

Sean

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