Aberdeen steps up to the plate with pride


The Ironman's hometown is bursting with baseball

May 05, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When you think of Aberdeen, you may well think of baseball these days.

Not only is Aberdeen the hometown of baseball's Ironman, Cal Ripken Jr., but it also is quickly transforming itself into a mecca of all things baseball.

On June 18, the new minor league team, the Aberdeen IronBirds, will begin play at Ripken Stadium. The stadium is just one part of an international baseball complex under construction in Aberdeen.

Upon completion, the $35 million complex known as the Aberdeen Project, will include a 6,000-seat minor league stadium and a state-of-the-art youth baseball academy with a youth-size version of Oriole Park at Camden Yards as well as youth-size versions of five other famous big league ballparks.

The youth academy will also feature on-site housing for up to 400 players and coaches for clinics, camps and tournaments. The site will be the permanent home of the Cal Ripken World Series televised nationally by Fox. In mid-April, USA Baseball, the national governing body of the sport, visited Aberdeen as one of five finalist communities being considered for the new home of its national offices and training site.

Aberdeen residents are taking it all in stride, comfortable with the notion that others will soon know what a great community it is.

"There's a lot of excitement about the stadium," said lifelong Aberdeen resident Glenn Gillis. "A lot of people who live in Aberdeen know that it is a neat place to come to, but we don't always get as good press as other folks do. So it will be nice to have something like that, a draw that will be a reason for people to come to Aberdeen."

Gillis said the city has a lot to offer its residents.

"Pretty much anywhere in Aberdeen I go, there are people that I know or know me or my family," said Gillis. "But mixed in with the traditional Aberdeen families -- because of Aberdeen Proving Ground -- are a lot of interesting people from a lot of different places with different backgrounds. And a lot of these people end up staying in Aberdeen, because they are looking for that old, hometown atmosphere."

Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army's oldest active proving ground, was established in 1917 to provide a facility where design and testing of ordnance material could be carried out in proximity to the nation's industrial and shipping centers. It occupies more than 72,500 acres adjacent to Aberdeen and has greatly influenced the area, say its residents.

Sylvester and Cardelia Lee decided to stay in Aberdeen after Sylvester Lee retired in 1995 from his job at Aberdeen Proving Ground. They now run the Ultimate Driving School in town.

When the Lees moved to Aberdeen in 1990, they did not think it would be where they would choose to retire.

"When we first got here, this was probably our least likely place we wanted to retire to," said Cardelia Lee. "But it grows on you. It's a small town with a lot of history. And with the stadium coming in, it's really going to bring in more jobs, opportunities and new ideas. It's an exciting time to be here. You can just feel a lot of progress taking place."

George Englesson, the town's former mayor and owner of the New Ideal Diner in Aberdeen, can also feel the excitement the baseball complex is creating.

"There has been constant change since I first came here. And now there's going to be even more changes with the minor league baseball and new stadium. It's going to be very interesting," said Englesson.

He came to Aberdeen in 1955 to help his cousins run the diner.

"I must have liked something about Aberdeen because I never left," he said.

Homes in Aberdeen run the gamut and include townhouses, ranchers, bungalows, Colonials and old Victorian frame houses with wraparound porches. Many of the homes are on large lots along tree-lined streets.

"It's truly an area that has just about something for everyone," said Diana Hirschhorn, an agent with the Bel Air central office of Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.

"There is every style you can imagine as well as a wide variety of ages of homes. There are those that are brand new and not yet built, to an 111-year-old Victorian."

While Aberdeen always has been a sought-after area, said Hirschhorn, she expects the new stadium to bring in even more interest.

"I think it will bring in a new set of people to the area that maybe would not have thought about Aberdeen before," said Hirschhorn. "I have found Aberdeen to be an area of interest, but I expect that demand to grow over time because of the new stadium."

Don Curry, the broker-owner of Century 21 Curry Agency, agrees that buyers can find just about any type of home in Aberdeen and in just about any price range.

"We have a very wide variety of housing," said Curry. "You can buy just about anything from an older, two-bedroom home in the $50,000-to-$60,000 range right up to a larger and newer home in the $300,000 range." He said people like the comfortable, hometown feel.

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