Mason-Dixon Arrive, June 1, 2009
I love baseball. And while I am not a statistical maven, I love the simplicity of the game, the ability to be outdoors enjoying a cold beer in the bleachers and the passion displayed by players and fans alike. Even though I grew up in the football-crazed South and graduated from the University of Georgia where football is considered a legitimate religion, my Mom brainwashed me early to be a Chicago Cubs fan (she was raised in Evanston, Ill.), despite knowing that the Cubs would break my heart every year.
Nothing says summer like heading out to the ballpark with family and friends with the hopes of catching that elusive foul ball and cheering on your favorite team. And with the economic realities affecting just about everybody these days, a day or night at a baseball game is one of the most affordable ways to have fun with loved ones. “We used to say that we were the same price as a night at the movies, but we’re actually cheaper than going to the movies now!” says Adam Pohl, director of public relations for the Frederick Keys, a Class A Affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. “If we are not affordable for families, then we are not serving our role in the community. Plus, baseball has something for everybody – no matter if you’re in your 20s, retired or a couple with young kids or whether you’re a novice fan or a fanatic, you’ll enjoy the experience of attending a game.”
Aaron Moszer, general manager of the Aberdeen IronBirds, a Short Season Class A Affiliate of the Orioles, agrees. “We try to provide a separation from reality for our fans and three hours of entertainment, and unlike the movies, here you can talk to your friends and family,” he laughs. “Ripken Stadium only seats 6,000, so it’s an intimate setting where you’re close to the players, and there is a real sense of camaraderie with our fans.” Speaking of fans, the IronBirds have enjoyed unprecedented fan support in their seven years in Aberdeen. “We’re very fortunate because we have an outstanding fan base. We’ve sold out every game in our existence, and historically minor league teams do well in tough economic times, as families are looking for an affordable activity. While our core fan base is Harford County, we feel like we’ve been adopted by Baltimore. Of course, the Ripken name helps, too.” In 2002, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Ripken Professional Baseball purchased the Utica Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League and renamed it the Aberdeen IronBirds, a mascot that combines Cal’s nickname and his 21-year career in an Orioles uniform.
“Our ballpark seats 10,000, and there is not a bad seat in the house, and it’s an intimate setting,” concurs Tom Sedlacek, communications manager for the Bowie Baysox, a Class AA Affiliate of the Orioles. “Our most expensive seat is $14, while general admission tickets are only $9. Plus, we have a kids’ park, complete with a carousel and inflatable toys.”
On- and off-field entertainment
While popcorn, hot dogs and cold beer may be the inspiration for some to attend a baseball game, what happens on the field is important, too. The Baltimore Orioles’ recent struggles are well documented, but there is hope at Camden Yards. “[President of Baseball Operations] Andy MacPhail has taken the right steps to improve the team’s international scouting and the farm system. We signed our first Japanese player in Koji Uehara (who beat the Yankees in his first start), and getting into the Japanese market is very important. In our farm system, we have three of the top 100 prospects, according to Baseball America, including the top prospect, Matt Wieters,” says Monica Barlow, director of public relations for the Baltimore Orioles. In fact, Wieters, a catcher, was named the minor league player of the year. “Also, this off-season, we signed contract extensions with two of our biggest stars, Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, making a commitment to long-term success. And with Adam Jones, we have an exciting team that can sure hit and will score a lot of runs, making them fun to watch.”
Adding to the fun, Barlow says, is the improvements made to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. “Our entertainment system is now HD, so all videos and graphics are in HD, one of only 10 major league parks to have this technology. We also replaced the auxiliary scoreboard and replaced the sound system with all new speakers, so now the entertainment value is greater, too.”
Of course, before Roberts, Jones and Markakis were running around the bases at Camden Yards, they put their time in the minors. This opportunity to see the Oriole stars of tomorrow is what makes attending a minor league game so much fun. “The top prospects come through Frederick, Aberdeen and Bowie before they head to the majors. It’s fun to say, ‘I remember so-and-so when he played here’ and get his autograph before he hits it big,” says the IronBirds’ Moszer. “The great thing for our fans is that this is the players’ first experience as a pro athlete, and they have that wide-eyed look and are so excited to sign autographs and talk to the kids. One of the best stories I heard was when a beat writer for a local paper was at Wendy’s ordering off the dollar menu and next to him was Nick Markakis ordering off the same dollar menu. Here is this top prospect with a huge signing bonus, and he’s a normal guy just like everybody else.”
Bowie’s close proximity to Baltimore and the team’s Class AA status means that many of the Baysox players should be with the Orioles soon, according to Sedlacek. “The Orioles’ minor league pitching talent is outstanding. For example, the Baysox’s Troy Patton is a top prospect for the Orioles, as is Brandon Erbe (from McDonogh High School) and Jake Arrieta. Come to a Baysox game and see the stars of tomorrow.”
“We’ve had some famous players play in Frederick in the past 20 years; 97 Keys have made their way to the majors. We definitely get a boost being an Orioles affiliate and while so close to Baltimore, as most of our fans are also O’s fans,” says Pohl. “Also, many team affiliations change over years, we’ve been with the O’s for 21 years.” Pohl adds that when major league players need to rehabilitate due to injury, they prefer to stay close to home, so they like to come to Frederick. Former Oriole Miguel Tejada played in Frederick while rehabilitating.
A kids’ zone and carousel make attending a Keys game fun for the little ones, says Pohl, while adults will enjoy the recent renovations to Grove Stadium, including new field turf, converting bleacher seats to chair backs with cup holders, a renovated suite level, new energy-efficient lighting and making the stadium ADA-certified. “We also added a new scoreboard and sound system, and by mid-season, we’ll have a new video screen,” he says.
Promotions drive attendance
If going to a baseball game wasn’t fun enough, teams have creative promotions throughout the season. Barlow notes that the Orioles have a season-long “Birdland Stimulus Package.” “Every Thursday is ‘Kids’ Night’ where children ages 10 and under get it for free when accompanied with a paying adult … up to two kids per paid adult. Also, all fans who register at orioles.com/birthdays will receive a voucher good for one free Upper Reserve non-prime ticket in their birthday month. Fans with off-season birthdays will get a ticket for a September game.” The Orioles are also offering an all-inclusive birthday party package for kids 14, which includes a visit by the Oriole Bird. Other popular promotional nights include Bargain Night, where fans may purchase an Upper Reserve or Left Field Upper Box seat for $8 on Tuesdays; and Student Night, with Left Field Upper Reserve tickets are $6 on Fridays with valid ID. The team also has sponsored giveaway nights with free T-shirts, jerseys and hats and several fireworks nights.
In Bowie, one of the exciting special events happens on June 6, when fans enjoy a pre-game concert by Milkshake, the very popular kids’ band, a meet-and-greet session with superhero characters and post-game fireworks. (June 6 is also Bowiefest, an all-day festival at Allen Pond Park.) Sedlacek also points to special events such as June 7’s “Pink in the Park” event, a women’s cancer awareness event with players donning pink jerseys to be auctioned off for charity; Matt Wieters Figurine Giveaway on June 17; and Father’s Day. The Father’s Day event will feature a barbecue, autographs with the players and the ability to play catch with Dad on the field before the game.
In Aberdeen, Opening Day is June 22, and other special events include ZOOperstars, the incredibly popular inflatable characters whose names mimic sports stars, on July 1; Superhero Night on July 2; and fireworks on July 3. Pohl notes that the Keys have approximately 400 promotions throughout the season, including the season-long “Family Fun Day,” on Sundays when fans can play catch in the outfield before the game; Mondays when kids 12 and under eat free; and Thursdays when kids wearing their little league uniforms receive a free ticket.
If You Go…
Why not make a day out of a trip to ballpark and see some other sights? Here are a few suggestions:
Aberdeen: Check out the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at APG with its collection of Army artifacts dating from the American Revolution; Ripken Museum dedicated to the family’s life in baseball; and check out the miniature replica of Camden Yards called Cal Sr.’s Yard, home of the annual Cal Ripken World Series for 10- to 12-year-olds.
Baltimore: There is plenty to do around the Inner Harbor, including shopping, sight-seeing at local attractions and dining “al fresco” at one of the many waterfront restaurants, as well as the pubs along Pratt Street or close to the ballpark, like Pickles Pub and Camden Pub.
Bowie: Sights include the Belair Mansion, the Belair Stable Museum, Bowie Railroad Station, Huntington Museum and the Radio and Television Museum.
Frederick: The historic Barbara Fritchie House is nice, as well as strolling along Patrick and North Market streets for antiques and small shops. Great dining can be found along North Market, including Firestone’s.