Never mind the IronBirds, here's Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson

Ripken Stadium opens gates to music legends

August 08, 2004|By Sarah Merkey | Sarah Merkey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The lure of the immaculate turf of Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen extends far beyond IronBirds' minor league baseball, as fans of music legends Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson will prove Thursday.

The two performers will give a concert at Ripken Stadium that night as part of their "Field of Dreams" tour.

It is one of the many events that will transform the stadium into a venue that, while specializing in baseball, also dabbles in concerts, exhibitions, fund-raising events and, in late October, a haunted house.

"The way we've always looked at it is that it is the civic center for Harford County," said Jeff Eiseman, general manager of Ripken Stadium and the IronBirds. "It has a lot of capacity beyond just being a baseball diamond."

Thursday's concert will be the second at Ripken Stadium - country singer Jo Dee Messina brought her act there in September 2002 - since it opened that year off Route 22 at Interstate 95.

The stop in Aberdeen is part of a 22-show tour of minor league ballparks that Nelson and Dylan will play - a tour that began Friday in Cooperstown, N.Y.

For Dylan and Nelson, Ripken Stadium "is kind of the grass-roots venue they want," said John Maroon, spokesman of the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a beneficiary of the concert.

Stadium officials see this as a chance to prove that Ripken Stadium can draw the crowds necessary to continue to showcase big-name performers.

"We would love for Ripken Stadium to become a premier concert venue," Maroon said.

The largest crowd ever at the stadium is expected for the concert. "Ticket sales are going very, very well so far," said Amy Venuto, director of sales at Ripken Stadium.

The stadium's proximity to I-95 and its comfortable design make it an excellent place for concerts, Venuto said. The right act, she said, could draw fans from as far as Philadelphia and Washington.

"It kind of comes down to timing," Venuto said. "It takes a lot to get the right act at the right time."

Dylan's unique voice and poetic lyrics made him a well-known figure of the 1960s protest movement. Since then, Dylan has continued to make music and maintain a huge following of loyal fans.

Nelson, one of country music's most celebrated singers and songwriters, has been inducted into Nashville's Songwriter's Hall of Fame and the Country Music Association's Hall of Fame.

While Dylan and Nelson have performed together in concert, this is the first time they have toured together.

Opening for Dylan and Nelson will be Western swing band The Hot Club of Cowtown.

For the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, which was established in 2001 by Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken to help disadvantaged kids learn values through baseball, a good crowd will translate into a substantial donation, Maroon said.

"Our goal is to sell 8,000 tickets," Maroon said. "Every dollar that we're able to raise helps build a great facility up at Aberdeen."

The foundation will receive $1 from each $46 ticket that is sold.

This year through the end of June, the foundation has given 634 children from across the country a chance to attend 18 baseball and softball camps at Ripken Stadium. In addition, 724 coaches have benefited from foundation clinics, Maroon said.

The foundation has awarded 54 grants totaling $343,900 to youth organizations this year, Maroon said.

"The foundation is kind of a fledgling, but I think the progress we've made is tremendous," Maroon said.

Some of the money these concerts and other events raise for the foundation will be used pay for construction of Cal Ripken Sr.'s Yard, a kids ballpark adjacent to Ripken Stadium that will look like Oriole Park at Camden Yards when completed, Maroon said.

While the stadium's first priority is the IronBirds, there are many open weekends and dates in the spring and fall that Eiseman said would be prime opportunities for events that extend beyond baseball.

The Cal Ripken World Series for youth baseball players begins Saturday, and there has already been a public pre-screening of the film The Manchurian Candidate, sponsored by the Maryland Film Festival. Two Harford Live shows - home improvement exhibition events - have also been held there.

Stadium officials are planning another concert Sept. 11, with rock bands Scene 24, Jimmie's Chicken Shack and Crack the Sky. All proceeds will go to the Annie McGann Cumpston Playground Foundation, Venuto said.

The foundation is a nonprofit organization established in memory of a 6-year-old Harford girl killed by a drunken driver while leaving the circus in Baltimore with her family. Funds raised by the concert will help build a playground in Annie's memory.

Dates for ticket sales have not yet been determined.

A resident who lives near the stadium, Tom Burkheimer of Gilbert Drive said he's OK with the concerts in his neighborhood, and that he hasn't been troubled by the noise of past stadium activities.

Parking has not been a problem, either, Venuto said, adding that the stadium has more parking than is typically used for IronBirds games.

The Aberdeen Police Department is prepared for the Thursday concert and does not expect the event to require more precautions than are in place for IronBirds games.

"It's a pretty standard operation," said Capt. Kenneth Cox.

Cox said the smooth success of all previous events at the stadium has led him to support anything that will bring revenue to Aberdeen.

"It's all been a positive thing, what we've seen so far," Cox said. "We've yet to have a negative experience."

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