In Aberdeen, settlement news met with yawn

IronBirds fans just fine watching minor leagues

August 31, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

ABERDEEN - As the Aberdeen IronBirds played the Vermont Expos in a Class A New York-Penn League baseball game last night in chilly, cozy Ripken Stadium, another sellout crowd seemed to greet the sport's big news of the day with a collective yawn.

Hours earlier, Major League Baseball's owners and players association had, for the first time ever, negotiated an agreement without losing a single day to either a strike or a work stoppage. The big-league games went on last night. There would be no repeat of the 1994 labor dispute debacle, which forced only the second cancellation of the World Series.

And it was hard to find anyone in this charming slice of Aberdeen who much cared.

Here, in the land of free parking and $8 seats with great sight lines and munchies that are not too pricey, life has been great all summer. Here, the minor-league brand of baseball has been fully embraced. Here, it seems the big leagues and their fat player contracts and competitive imbalance problems and labor showdowns might as well be playing out some weird dance on some other planet.

"I was hoping they would go on strike, so they would go down the tubes. I think they knew this time if they did it, it would be the straw that broke the camel's back," said Joe Kelly, an electronic technician at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"These guys make more money in one day than I make in 10 years. It's billionaires fighting with millionaires over money, and I'm supposed to be upset if they can't settle things?"

Kelly grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., grew up watching the Orioles at Memorial Stadium. He used to make it to numerous games a year, before players salaries and ticket prices began to head skyward. Typically, if he attends an Orioles game these days at Camden Yards - and that is a rarity - it happens only because the ticket is given to him.

Kelly hopped on board as soon as season ticket plans became available at Ripken Stadium. Joe and his wife, Molly, purchased half-season, 18-game plans for $9 a seat.

"I don't care for all of the money, but it's good that they didn't strike, because a lot of little people would have been out of a job," said Molly, an Aberdeen native who owns a boat canvas business and counts the Ripken family among her friends. She has never been to a major-league game.

"We've got our ball right here," she added.

Mike Gartside, 49, a Baltimore native who resides in nearby Abingdon and works in the communications division of the Maryland State Police, admitted he was mildly interested in the fate of major-league baseball.

Gartside said he has never paid for a ticket this year to the five or six Orioles games he has attended. He has had no problem plunking down the money required to attend some 15 IronBirds contests. His daughter works in one of the concession stands at Ripken Stadium.

"Just hearing them talk about a strike is upsetting. I think both sides realized there would be irreparable damage [if a strike occurred]. They probably would have lost a lot of their fan base. I don't think they take fans into consideration, even though they say they do," Gartside said.

"It's much cheaper to come here, and the players hustle every time, which I don't think happens all of the time [in the majors]. It's such a great family atmosphere here. I come here because I love the game of baseball."

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