I hadn’t been to a baseball game in six weeks, not since I saw the Myrtle Beach Pelicans play the Frederick Keys, a game I called “a garbage game” because, frankly, the Keys played like stinky garbage. Then the Beetle died, I had to get together the money to replace it, and, finally, this week I did. I am mobile once more.
Before the Beetle broke down, I had the thought of going to see a Baltimore Redbirds game in Towson. The Redbirds are a team in the Cal Ripken Summer Collegiate Baseball League, a wooden-bat league for college baseball players to play during the summer months where they can refine their skills. There are a number of leagues like this — the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts, the New England League in the New England states, the Coastal Plain League in the Carolinas, the Valley League in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the Northwoods League in Wisconsin, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Their players are looking to develop skills, refine skills, improve their draft stock. They dream of reaching the major leagues. Most won’t. Some will be drafted, play in the minors, and reach their ceiling there. For others, the college summer leagues are their ceiling. This is as far as their baseball dreams will take them. Growing up near Harrisonburg, Virginia, my dad took me and my siblings to see the Harrisonburg Turks in the Valley League. I didn’t know any of the drama around the Turks; to me it was just baseball.
I hadn’t been to a game like this in thirty years, it was a thought in the back of my mind… and then the car troubles intervened. But with new wheels at hand, I took a look at the Redbirds schedule, saw that they were playing at home at Calvert Hall High School on Friday night at 6:30, and saw that it was Breast Cancer Awareness Night. A quick question on Twitter — how much is admission? — revealed that the games were free, so I pulled out a Harrisburg Senators Pink Night t-shirt from 2014, packed that and shorts in a backpack so I could change at the office, and thus my plans were made.
Oddly, for a Friday night, the drive down York Road from Hunt Valley to Towson wasn’t bad at all, and I arrived at Carlo Crispino Stadium about 5:45.
The Cal Ripken League is a ten-team league based in the DMV, mainly in the District and its suburbs, but it also has two Baltimore-area teams. The Redbirds are the northern-most team in the league. They’ve been wildly successful the last few years; they’ve won four consecutive league championships and, as of yesterday, they had the league’s best record and led the North Division by 4 games. Their opponents last night were the Silver Spring-Tacoma T-Bolts, second in the North Division (and the only other team in the North Division with a winning record). When I arrived, the T-Bolts were taking batting practice.
Not knowing what to expect, I had wanted to get there early, and I needn’t have worried. Forty minutes before the game, there weren’t a lot of people there. There was plenty of seating.
For a high school ballpark, it had a very nice grandstand — four seating sections, four rows of seats, three rows of bleachers. In a pinch, I estimated that the grandstand would seat about 250 people. The grandstand seemed new, no older than fifteen years, maybe no older than ten, but with its girders and brick it felt old-fashioned.
Plus, there was a pincic area/Standing Room Only area along the first base line beyond the concession stand.
The field appeared to have nice dugouts. The Redbirds used the third base dugouts, while the T-Bolts used the first base side dugouts.
I quickly discovered the position of the dugouts caused a few sight problems and I had to experiment with where to sit so that the dugout structure didn’t obscure, say, first base. My first inclination was to sit in the first row of bleachers toward the end, but I found that I couldn’t see first base at all from there. I moved up to the last row of bleachers, but then the girder supporting the roof obscured home plate. I ended up sitting in the last bleacher row pretty close to the press box.
I took a program and studied it. Not a single name did I recognize.
College baseball was on the mind recently; Coastal Carolina won the College World Series this week. A colleague graduated from Coastal Carolina, and I emailed him congratulations. He replied that he was losing his mind, that he wanted to run screaming through Diamond’s corridors, but decorum stayed his hand. I suggested he do it anyway; Steve Geppi has enough baseball memorabilia around the office that people would understand. Not accept, mind you. But they would understand. Suffice it to say, he didn’t.
The Redbirds have no grounds crew. In collegiate summer ball, the players themselves are the grounds crew, and the Redbirds players wheeled the batting cage off the field. I’m not sure how much of a grounds crew they would need; the field appeared to be turf.
Shortly thereafter, the T-Bolts players took infield drills. That was interesting to watch.
This night, there were two ceremonial first pitches. The first pitch was by one of the boys of the Baltimore Warbirds baseball team. They also served as the night’s batboys and went chasing after foul balls. (The PA announcer several times announced that all foul balls needed to be returned to the press box. I assumed the balls were being returned to the rotation.)
The second ceremonial first pitch was thrown by a representative of the Maryland chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. They were happy that I stopped at their table to talk to them pre-game. One friend of mine died of breast cancer several years ago, another is battling it now. Seems absurd, really, that one in eight women will face their bodies turning on them and attempting to kill them.
After the ceremonial pitches, the managers came out and exchanged their line-up cards. I thought it was interesting that the Ripken League uses three umpires; the High-A Carolina League only uses two.
Then, a singer performed the Star-Spangled Banner without accompaniment. His performance was slow and somewhat mournful. He did a nice job with it.
There was something charming about taking in a ballgame at a park without advertising plastered all over the outfield wall.
The dimensions of Carlo Crispino Field weren’t symmetrical. While it was 300 feet down the lines and 380 to center, right center was 355 and left center was 365. I judged the fence to about about 8 feet tall all the way around. There was no batter’s eye.
Starting for the Redbirds this night was righthander Dallas Woolfork of the Ole Miss. Leading off for the T-Bolts was centerfielder Zach Racusin of Marist.
In the top of the first, Woolfork gave up two runs on a 2-run RBI triple by Grayland Fowler of South Carolina-Aiken into the right field corner. The Redbirds got a run back in the bottom half of the innings when an error on a grounder to third by Penn State’s Connor Klemann ended up advancing him all the way to third thanks to an errant throw. Two batters later he scored when T-Bolts pitcher Andy Rozylowicz threw a pitch in the dirt past catcher Paul Burmester and it went to the backstop and kicked off toward third.
In the bottom of the second, the Redbirds were tie up the game on a hit-and-run play — right fielder Ryan Karstetter hit a single into left that scored UNC’s Kyle Datres from second. The Redbirds’ line-up was right-handed heavy against the left-handed Rozylowicz, and they were aggressive at the plate and on the basepaths.
When the T-Bolts scored two runs in the top of the 3rd, the Redbirds would respond — and then some.
First baseman Matt Rowland singled into center off of Rozylowicz, then shortstop Utah Jones sac-bunted Rowland to second. Second baseman Connor Klemann walked, bringing center fielder Cam Simmons to the plate. Simmons fouled off one pitch with the hit-and-run on, and then after two balls, Simmons connected, again with the hit-and-run on, hitting a single into center, scoring Rowland from first and sending Klemann to third, cutting the T-Bolts lead to 4-3. Right fielder Martin Costes popped out to second.
Then third baseman Kyle Datres stepped into the box.
On the first pitch he saw from Rozylowicz, Datres crushed the ball to left. T-Bolts left fielder Tom Ruddy made a valiant leap at the wall, but it was for naught. One pitch, one swing, three runs. The Redbirds took the lead, 6-4.
His team came out of the dugout to greet him.
In the fifth, Redbirds pitcher Woolfork loaded the bases with one out, then threw a three pitch strikeout to T-Bolts third baseman Ben Kocher (Kocher didn’t swing once in that at-bat), and induced a 6-4 groundout from from catcher Paul Burmester to get out of the inning.
In the bottom half of the inning, the Redbirds would tack on two more runs. Rozylowicz gave up a two-out walk to Kyle Datres, then Ryan Karstetter hit a 2-run shot to left. Redbirds 8, T-Bolts, 4.
In the top of the sixth with two outs, Woolfork was replaced with left-handed Tyler Schmitt from Cecil College. Woolfork received polite applause, not because he’d pitched a bad game but because the crowd was small and couldn’t generate much noise. I guestimated the evening’s crowd at about 80 people, and the noisiest were a small group of Silver Spring partisans down front behind home plate.
In the bottom of the 6th, the T-Bolts made a pitching change of their own, bringing in right-hander Christopher Carroll from Belmont.
Carroll’s mechanics weren’t really fluid. He’d come set, unwind… and then it was as though he hit pause, froze in place, and then flung the ball. He was a little wild.
Carroll would give up two runs in the 6th, both runs as a result of the Redbirds’ aggressive approach at the plate and on the basepaths. Utah Jones moved Matt Rowland from first to third on a well-executed hit-and-run play, then Corey Klemann executed a squeeze bunt single down the third base line to score Rowland and move Jones all the way to third. Klemann then stole second and Jones scored when Burmester threw to second to catch Klemann. Klemann then attempted to steal third, but Burmester’s throw to Kocher was in time.
After six, the score was Redbirds 10, T-Bolts 4.
In the seventh, the Redbirds would add one more run — Datres hit an RBI double off the right field wall that scored Martin Costes from second.
Before the ninth inning, the sounds of Semisonic’s “Closing Time” wafted through the stadium, and Chris Lopez, a right-hander from Old Dominion, took the mound for the Redbirds.
Zach Racusin hit a chopper back to the mound on the first pitch for an easy 1-3 out.
Tom Ruddy showed bunt on the first pitch, then hit a fly out to left for the second out.
Nick Vogelmeier, a defensive substitution at third in the bottom half of the eighth, stepped into the box as the T-Bolts’ last chance. He hit a grounder to first, and a quick toss from Rowland to Lopez covering first ended the game.
Redbirds 11, T-Bolts 4.
After celebratory handshakes on the field for the Redbirds, the two teams met for handshakes as well.
It wasn’t quite nine o’clock, and there were interesting clouds in the skies over Towson.
I walked out to my car and took one last look at Carlo Crispino Stadium.
It was a nice venue for a baseball game. It had a nice, relaxed atmosphere. The ages in the stands ranged from ages six to seventy-six. Some were more into the game than others, but that’s true of any baseball game. (I’ve been to games at Nationals Park where it feels like it’s a thirtysomething hangout where a baseball game just happens to be happening in the background.)
I may go back. You can’t beat free, the quality of the game was more than fine, and the stadium isn’t all that inconvenient to get to from the office.
All in all, it was a nice evening for a baseball game.