I won tickets to last night’s Aberdeen Ironbirds game. They’re a short-season Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles in the New York-Penn League, owned by Cal Ripken, Jr. I remember when their stadium was built — I lived outside Philly at the time, and I’d pass it on I-95 when driving down to Baltimore to visit my grandmother. At work yesterday they held a drawing for tickets for the game, I submitted my name, and lo and behold, I won two tickets to go see the Ironbirds take on the Staten Island Yankees.
I left work at five, drove up to Aberdeen — about thirty miles north of Baltimore &mash; and got to the stadium pretty much as they opened the gates. I bought souvenirs — a baseball cap, a tee-shirt — and a footlong hot dog. And a monster bag of crackerjacks.
My seat? Section 100. A6. Smack dab in the middle of the first row, right behind home plate. The usher wiped down my seat.
Batting practice was finishing as I took my seat, and I got to observe firsthand how the lines are laid on the basepaths.
Four ceremonial first pitches. One was thrown to Cal Ripken himself. A local choral group came out and sang the Star Spangled Banner. What with all the pregame festivities, the game proper didn’t begin until about 7:45.
The game? Well, it was a shutout — Staten Island 9, Aberdeen 0. Aberdeen never really threatened. Aberdeen’s starting pitcher went into the sixth, then the relief pitcher gave up a two run bomb and a couple more runs besides before getting out of the inning. There was an amusing play where two outfielders and the shortstop watched the ball drop in between them.
I had two pitching scouts from the Yankees sitting behind me. They had notebooks, clipboards, and a radar gun. “Location?” “Was that a change-up or a slider?” They were amusing to listen to, especially when the Yankees’ closer wasn’t particularly effective in the bottom of the ninth.
The crowd of about six thousand had seriously thinned out by the final pitch around 10:00. By the ninth I was the only person still in the first row. No, I wasn’t expecting a last minute rally — and I chuckled a little when a guy a few rows behind me started shouting words of encouragement to the Ironbirds’ final batter — of course he’d wait until the kid had two strikes on him, and it reminded me of a Carolina Mudcats game where, with the eternal optimism of youth, a kid sitting near me insisted throughout the bottom of the ninth that the Mudcats were “going for the grand slam” to tie the game.
As I left the stadium, people were giving out loaves of bread. Loaves of bread. I took two, then drove back to Baltimore.
No, it wasn’t a great game for the hometown nine (though, really, it’s not my hometown in any way, shape or form), but I had a nice time. I got to eat a footlong hot dog. I got to be about twenty feet from Cal Ripken. I got two loaves of bread, a tee-shirt, and a cap. Baseball in small town America — you gotta love it.