Ripken Stadium?

Aberdeen ballpark: $9 million commitment from Orioles' star is just what the legislature wanted.

January 02, 2000

Cal Ripken Jr. came up with a clutch pinch hit the other day -- not bad considering Opening Day is still four months away. Mr. Ripken's pledge of $9 million toward a baseball complex, including a minor-league stadium in Aberdeen, may help rally this project to reality.

The idea held promise when first proposed several years ago: A minor-league ballpark would be built in Aberdeen, partly made famous as the town where long-time Oriole Cal Ripken Sr. and Vi Ripken raised their brood of ballplayers. Very visible sites were available along Interstate 95. And unlike towns that have courted minor-league baseball without a prayer of landing a team, Aberdeen had the backing of Peter M. Kirk, an established minor-league owner in Maryland.

The only ingredient lacking was money. While Aberdeen and Harford County looked to the state, legislators rightly wondered about private investment. Lawmakers were enthralled by Mr. Ripken's visit to Annapolis on behalf of the project two years ago, but were still insisting "show me the money."

Mr. Ripken's backing should give the governor and General Assembly the private risk they were seeking before approving substantial public money. After getting a $500,000 down payment from the governor last winter, Harford officials involved are seeking $7 million from the state.

While the delay has driven up construction cost, it has also allowed time for the concept to grow. The Ripken family wants to build an adjoining baseball school for youngsters that the late Cal Sr. founded. It would host 3,000 children each summer. There is also hope of getting the Babe Ruth League to hold championships there for young players, like the Little League does in Williamsport, Pa.

One question to be answered: How much minor-league baseball can one region support? Roughly an hour from Aberdeen are teams in Frederick and Bowie. Only a half-hour north is one in Wilmington, Del. Mr. Kirk is looking to post another team in York, Pa. His group's belief that the market can accommodate all these is important , but the public deserves greater assurances if it's partially footing the stadium bill.

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