Prior to 2002, the tiny city of Aberdeen, Maryland was likely most known for being the birthplace of Cal Ripken Jr. and the location of Aberdeen Proving Ground, a U.S. army weapons testing facility. All of that changed when their favorite son bought the Utica Blue Sox of the New-York Penn League and moved them to Aberdeen in 2002. The Ripken Family and Cal’s business have their fingerprints all over the franchise as evidenced by the team name, stadium name and surrounding complex. While the on-field production has been a struggle (the IronBirds have yet to reach the playoffs in their team history), the overall Ripken Stadium experience is generally a good one.
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Likely the highlight of attending an IronBirds game is the quality and quantity of food available. Local flavor should be valued highly at a stadium and there is plenty of it in Aberdeen starting with Conrad's Crabs and Seafood Deck. This covered section along the right-field foul line includes picnic tables covered in brown paper with a wooden hammer ready to be taken to some steamed crabs. The crabs are available in differing amounts and the ability to enjoy a Maryland tradition while watching the game is awesome. Other seafood items can be enjoyed from this stand like a famous Crab Cake Sandwich ($13), Maryland Crab Soup ($5), a Crab Pretzel ($10) and an Apple Cider Salmon Salad ($11).
Ripken's design business recently jumped into the concessionaire side and so far that has been a big success in Aberdeen. Their takeover has led to some great food items, continuing with a local touch. Roma Sausage House features several types of sausage, including those blended with Old Bay ($6.50) and Natty Boh Beer ($6.50). Out of all the other food options, the Farm League stand is a favorite. Along with various salads and panini's, fans can get Corn on the Cob ($2.50), Strawberry Shortcake ($6) or a Watermelon Wedge ($2.50). I particularly loved the watermelon to snack on late in the game.
Drinks can be found in several different varieties of Pepsi products and Budweiser beers. While water, tea, coffee and sports drinks all are options, the alcoholic side of things have a decent amount of microbrews. Included on tap for $6 are Rams Head, Fat Tire, and Greenville's Twin Lakes.
Ripken Stadium is designed with nearby Camden Yards in mind, which means plenty of brick to go along with green trusses and beams. It does look nice, but it ends up blending in with so many other minor-league parks designed in this fashion. There also just feels like a lack of personalization and uniqueness inside as it is hard to tell you are in Aberdeen compared with some place else. With that being said, the ballpark is still decent and it is much more like a Double-A park as opposed to one in the NY-Penn League.
A single-level seating bowl extends just beyond the infield and is split by a needlessly wide walkway, which separates seating into the lower 100 sections and upper 200s. Any seat is fine, but the general fan won't be able to sit directly behind home plate in the upper section as that area is taken by the Open Air Café, an all-inclusive section with patio tables and chairs. Looking beyond the field of play, there is not much to see past the outfield and the scoreboards out there are antiquated and it is hard to see the player pictures or video on the board in right-center.
The game presentation is classic for the minor leagues with the usual between-inning contests and the presence of an on-field MC. Mascots "Ferrous" and "Ripcord" are there to entertain as well. If the team wants to continue playing sound effects during at-bats (something I am not a fan of), then they desperately need a new selection with some variety. I heard the Adams Family theme and "Everybody Clap Your Hands" (from the Cha Cha Slide) at least a combined 100 times.
The Ripken Stadium complex is a few miles away from the center of Aberdeen and the surrounding area offers little to the visiting fan. Closer to the ballpark on Route 22, but still a short drive away, is a conglomerate of hotels, strip malls, shopping centers and restaurants. The restaurants are a mix of fast food, national franchises and a few local places. The Greene Turtle offers more of a sports bar atmosphere, while Mamie's is an Italian, home-style sit-down restaurant.
This whole section of hotels and strip malls is here to satisfy the many number of families that come to Aberdeen for youth baseball. Alongside Ripken Stadium is a huge complex of youth fields that are used for camps, clinics and tournaments. This is dubbed the "Ripken Experience" and it has turned into quite a business. The complex is typically busy and during August, the Cal Ripken World Series is played. This division of the Babe Ruth League (an alternate to Little League) competes in a global tournament that finishes at this complex and in the 2,000-seat stadium known as Cal Sr.'s Yard. The small Camden Yards replica even has a hotel in right field designed to look like the B&O Warehouse.
Don't be fooled by the ten year sellout streak the team boasts about. Minor League Baseball attendance is a sham thanks to game attendance representing tickets sold as opposed to seats filled, and the turnstile count. Thus, giveaways and many other factors can greatly enhance numbers. During this supposed "sell-out streak", there were games in the later years when empty green seats equaled or outnumbered fans attending.
That's not to say this team does not have fans because they do and they support the team well. For such a small city (Aberdeen's population is only around 15,000), the IronBirds have a decent following and crowd. They are also one of the better drawing teams in the New York-Penn League, comparable to teams like Hudson Valley and Lowell. The game I attended most recently on a pleasant Sunday summer evening in 2013 featured about 2,500-3,000 people on hand. Many of them were wearing Aberdeen apparel and they made up a typical minor-league crowd. As the Birds attempted a rally and almost came back in the game from a large deficit, the fans became a little more responsive.
The scoreboard at Ripken Stadium can be seen while driving down I-95 and the close access to the Interstate makes driving to the facility very simple. After getting off at Exit 85, a turn down aptly named Long Drive leads right to the ballpark and there is plenty of free parking in front. Getting out after the game is not bad either as traffic is directed and the four-lane access road leads right back to 95.
Inside Ripken Stadium, the concourses are quite wide and easy to maneuver. Bathrooms are clean and accessible too.
Going to an IronBirds game is worth it, but ticket prices are above normal for both the league and market. They range from $10 to $17.50 and it is surprising not to see some cheaper alternatives, especially from a league at the lowest level in minor league baseball. It is not much of a difference, but these ticket prices are higher than nearby teams like Wilmington, Bowie, and Harrisburg. Thankfully, parking is free.
This is not necessarily a bonus point, but I really got sick of hearing and seeing the name Ripken everywhere. I understand it is borderline sacrilegious to talk bad about that name when in Maryland, but by the end of the visit it got on my nerves. From the team nickname, the stadium name, the "Ripken Experience" signs on the concession and scoreboard, even a section in the team store devoted to Cal. Enough already! They are certainly branding that name and business as the six-letter last name was burned into my eyes and head by the end of the night.
Now onto better more positive things...the game I attended was Autism Awareness Night and the team really did a great job promoting awareness and making the event enjoyable for those with Autism. Former Oriole B.J. Surhoff was on-hand to talk before the game and it really was a nice night for those involved.
Also, the aforementioned team store is quite large and there are plenty of options for those that want to add on some IronBirds gear. Known as "The Hangar", the space is accessible from both inside and outside of the park.
Ripken Stadium is a nice ballpark designed to evoke similarities to Aberdeen's parent team, the Baltimore Orioles. While that concept was achieved, the stadium ends up blending in with countless other minor-league parks designed in a similar manner. Still, this is a class ballpark in a league that now features a wide variation of city and stadium types. The main highlight at Ripken Stadium is the stellar food and it is hard to beat sitting at a picnic table opening and eating steamed Maryland Crabs while watching baseball.
Ripken Stadium is located about 35 miles northeast of Baltimore in the town of Aberdeen, Maryland. Described as a baby version of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, it is home to the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds. As you read about the greatness of this place, bear that in mind. This is Single-A baseball. Single-A.
Last visit here was in 2010.
This is a great stadium. My only issue is that the crown was tiny. Granted, it was a weeknight but I still expected a reasonable crowd since the weather was prefect. Maybe there was something more interesting going on nearby. I estimated a crowd of about 500-700 fans. The staff was super friendly and had lots of time on their hands. The food was good and there was a nice variety. The field and stadium were both excellent. I hope to get to another game this year.
I hear a lot of people (including the author of the official review on SJ) rave about Ripken Stadium, but I find it to be somewhat underwhelming. Yes, the concessions are quite good, but other than that, there is little I really like about this park. After first visiting in 2002, I saw a game here again in 2012 and found the park felt a bit worn. There were places where the concrete was chipped and a few seats appeared to be broken or bent. While the park follows the template that has been used for most new parks, I have found the sightlines to be poor here because the seats are not sloped enough. In addition, ticket prices are on the high side with the cheapest seat being $9.50. Still, the Ironbirds seem to be selling out most games, so they must be doing something right.
1113 Beards Hill Rd
Aberdeen, MD 21001
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830 Long Dr
Aberdeen, MD 21001