All-American Aberdeen ready to go even higher in baseball

Site: Next year, the Cal Ripken World Series for 11- and 12-year-olds will be in Ripken Stadium.

October 27, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Five years ago, Aberdeen was chosen as an All-American city by the National Civic League.

Now, a process is under way to bring Aberdeen an all-world baseball complex.

The first phase was completed June 18 when Ripken Stadium - the home of the Orioles' minor-league affiliate in the New York-Penn League - opened to rave reviews.

New and containing almost all amenities associated with its major-league counterparts, the park was bulging with fans for 38 games. The Class A IronBirds played to 231,935 spectators, an average of 6,109 a game, which is more than the stadium's listed capacity of 6,000.

Harford County's most famous native son, Cal Ripken Jr., who owns the team, was ecstatic about the results of his venture.

"I really didn't know what to expect, and I had no idea we would do so well," Ripken said on the final day of the season. "I had good expectations that were exceeded.

"But you feel bad that you don't have enough seats. We're challenged by many things, and we're trying to figure out ways to get more people in, redistribute tickets in some way."

The problem may be heightened next June because the IronBirds have a large and growing waiting list of fans seeking tickets.

Buoyed by the popularity of his professional team, Ripken is excited about the continuation of the $26 million project, which was funded by himself, the state, Harford County and Aberdeen.

Now being graded is the surface for the mini-Camden Yards field, which will be the focal point of the adjacent diamonds where baseball will be taught to youth the Ripken Way.

When it is complete, the Camden Yards facility will be the site of the Cal Ripken World Series, an international championship for 11- and 12-year-old players in what was formerly known as the Bambino Division of the Babe Ruth League.

Previously played in Mattoon, Ill., and Vincennes, Ind., the Series featured 17 teams last summer, including representatives from Australia, Canada, Italy, Korea and the Netherlands. More than 600,000 play Cal Ripken Baseball throughout the world.

For next year, its World Series will be played at a reconfigured Ripken Stadium. "We're prepared to retrofit the field, take the [professional] infield out and use temporary fences," said Ripken.

When completed, the Ripken Baseball Academy will include at least four smaller diamonds modeled after Camden Yards, Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park, along with several dormitories and training facilities.

Although there is no set timetable, it is hoped that the project will be finished by 2005, weather permitting.

"We've had a kind of philosophical change," said Ripken. "We're valuing the fields more, so we can get to instruction. The human components have been pushed ahead of things like seats and concrete."

Some fields will be constructed for smaller children; others for older players reaching into the teen years.

"We want the youths to get the feeling I got the first time I set foot in those stadiums," said Ripken. "How special it is, that feeling of awe."

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