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Official Review by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Everyone knows about that other Little League World Series, which is held in Pennsylvania and shown on a couple of major television networks. Well, there is another little league championship out there. The Cal Ripken Little League World Series is held annually at the Ripken Experience in Aberdeen, MD. This series is for the Major/70 division of Cal Ripken Baseball. This division pitches from 50 feet away and the bases are 70 feet apart, compared with 46 and 60 feet, respectively, in Little League. Cal Ripken Baseball covers ages 4 to 12 of the Babe Ruth League. And yes, that is a lot of usages of the Ripken name.
The Babe Ruth League had other championships in the past, but in 2000 they played their first under the Ripken Banner. After a couple of test years in Mattoon, Illinois, the championship moved to Cal’s hometown of Aberdeen. It was originally played at a modified Ripken Stadium until the complex fields, especially the large Cal Sr’s Yard, was ready in 2005. There was also a split of the division between Major/60 (a 60-foot distance pitcher's mound) and Major/70 a couple more years later. Youth baseball is experiencing some conflicts currently between people who say that 12-year-olds are better suited for the longer fields of the Cal Ripken Little League and those who think the original Little League field is a better fit.
This complex has eight youth fields, including Cal Sr’s Yard and Nationals Field, which this tournament uses. It is such a big complex that there is usually another youth tournament going on at the same exact time as the series. The minor league IronBirds also play at home during the week of the series. Aberdeen is a very busy baseball spot during the second week of August.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession stands are way above the standard little league fare. Hot dogs are $3, with chili added for another 50 cents. Cheeseburgers are $4.75. The Roma Sausage Sandwich is the most expensive item on the menu at $7, but is large for the money. Breakfast items are sold until 10am, for those early starting games. A larger Ripken Burger and Natty Boh Sausage are added to the regular menu for this event. They both can be had for $9 and $8, respectively.
Regular sodas are $2.25. A 32-ounce souvenir cup is available for $8, with refills for $2. Beer is sold only for this annual event at a separate sectioned-off area. Natty Boh, Coors Light and Miller Lite are $5 for 16 ounces.
Since this is a world class event, you will find other vendors in addition to the permanent stadium stands. Laurrapin Grille, out of nearby Havre de Grace, has a tent with a great selection of farm-to-table options. Freshly made to order enchiladas and burritos are a steal at $10. Sustainable tilapia tacos for $9 are another amazing deal, and are way better than most ballpark cuisine.
The centerpiece of the entire complex is Cal Sr's Yard, it is a near-scale replica of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and even has a replica warehouse building which houses two hotels (Residence Inn Aberdeen and Courtyard Aberdeen). The field is entirely sports turf, except for the pitcher's mound and the area surrounding home plate.
The other field used by the World Series is Nationals Field. It is supposed to represent a version of the DC stadium, but there is nothing distinctive about this field. It is also entirely sports turf, except for the pitcher's mound and the area surrounding home plate, just like Cal Sr's Yard. There are only small seating stands at this field. If watching a game here, make sure to bring a blanket or a fold-up chair.
The complex has versions of Fenway Park (with a real Green Monster), Wrigley Field (with real ivy, but not the foul pole-area pushouts), as well as Memorial Stadium and Yankee Stadium copies. These all have real grass and dirt, and are not used for the Cal Ripken Little League World Series. The Yankees stadium is a full-size field, not youth-sized. There is also a softball field and multiple practice fields and batting cages.
A temporary water park is set up for the tournament. It is quite popular with the siblings of the baseball contestants.
There is no real neighborhood. The complex is located across I-95 from the rest of Aberdeen. The area around the stadium is ripe for development, but only Ripken Stadium, the youth fields, two hotels and some over-50 housing buildings are in the area.
A short drive away back over I-95 is an abundance of restaurants and hotels. Aberdeen, home to the Army's massive Aberdeen Proving Grounds, is a center of business activity. Olive Tree (1005 Beards Hill Road) is a better version of a well-known Italian chain, while Mamie's Cafe with Love (939 Beards Hill Road) is an old-school Baltimore-style restaurant that offers free desserts with all meals. Super Chicken Rico (690 South Philadelphia Blvd,) is another choice with which you can't go wrong.
Venture into nearby Havre de Grace and the options expand dramatically. If you enjoyed their food stand at the game, then stop in at Laurrapin Grille's main location of at 209 N Washington Street (Havre de Grace, MD 21078). Other food options in Havre de Grace include the Tidewater Grille and Vineyard Wines. Washington Street Books, Bahoukas Beer MuZeum and GreenJoy are all interesting shopping options in this quaint waterfront town. If you do go to Havre de Grace, make sure to stop at the elegant Concord Point Lighthouse.
These fans can be intense. Youth baseball, especially at a high level such as this, puts many demands on families. So expect to hear cheers and jeers at all points of the game. You can also expect to see international support to be obvious, based on banners and shirts. It is not uncommon to see the international teams host families cheering constantly for their visiting guests.
I-95 runs right next to the complex, which means that access from there and State Route 22 (a major road across the ever-growing Harford County) is strong. Long Drive (which was named before the stadium was there, surprisingly) is a four-lane road and is the only way into the stadium area. It never gets too busy, as it is directed by staff and local police. Parking is free and plentiful, although a bit busier when the IronBirds are in town.
Games are free to attend. Combined with the free plentiful parking, the value is great for the casual fan. You will still need to get a ticket, still free, for the US, International and overall championship games.
The warehouse replica past the right field wall serves as a great viewpoint for the complex, as well as having two hotels inside.
Check to see if nearby Ripken Stadium has a game that day, and your value gets even better.
Check out the vendor booths for all your baseball needs. Rawlings can get you a new glove and get it primed for action. Similar baseball and food related vendors are scattered around the Cal Sr's Yard area.
It may be little league baseball, but the quality is pretty high at the Cal Ripken Little League World Series. You would be hard pressed to find quality international competition in one spot like you would here in Aberdeen.
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1005 Beards Hill Rd
Aberdeen, MD 21001
939 Beards Hill Rd
Aberdeen, MD 21001
830 Long Dr
Aberdeen, MD 21001
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830 Long Dr
Aberdeen, MD 21001