Aberdeen aims to be U.S. baseball home base

City among five finalists for group's relocation site

April 16, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Cal Ripken and Aberdeen are making their pitch to attract USA Baseball.

The national governing body of the sport, USA Baseball is searching for a new headquarters and training site, selecting Aberdeen - where Ripken Baseball is constructing a grand complex that will house the Orioles' short-season Single-A affiliate and numerous youth programs - as one of the five finalists.

Yesterday, USA Baseball officials toured the facility with Ripken before a news conference in the council chambers at Aberdeen City Hall and then formal meetings to hear a presentation. They will conclude a two-day visit today with more meetings, then debate from about mid-May to June 1 before choosing a final site from among Aberdeen - the final stop on the tour - Atlanta, North Carolina's Research Triangle area, Kissimmee, Fla., and Jupiter, Fla.

USA Baseball gave no indication of Maryland's chances for landing the body that governs the activities of the United States national teams, including the Olympic squad. But Aberdeen has already acquired one plum, the opening game of the U.S. national team's touring series against the Japan Collegiate All-Stars, at Ripken Stadium on June 28.

Supporters jammed the chambers in a show of support, prompting headquarters relocation committee chairman Jack Kelly to remark: "We had hoped some cities would take themselves out of the running. But you've made it even harder. You've certainly got a lot to offer. This is by far the largest public group we've had."

Aberdeen Mayor Doug Wilson stressed the interest of many volunteers, the location between two major international airports, Baltimore-Washington and Philadelphia, and the possible tie-in to the 2012 Olympics, which the region is seeking.

Ripken said USA Baseball would be "a perfect addition to what we're trying to accomplish" at the complex. "USA Baseball has its own separate identity, and it would be like going to Disney World, visiting another theme park. We don't have all the bases covered [in terms of the age of players], and this would be a nice progression."

But he realizes the competition is stiff. "Jupiter has 13 fields. It's impressive," Ripken said. "But even if we don't get it [the headquarters], I would hope and suspect that we'd still have value for some games."

Kelly said weather - Aberdeen is the northernmost finalist - would not be a factor in the final choice. "We don't need to be a 12-month operation," he said.

USA Baseball is leaving its base in Tucson, Ariz., the headquarters since 1997. For 21 years before that, it was based in Trenton, N.J.

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