Minor league parks, major league fun

Baseball stadiums pack 'em in with wacky promotions, bargain prices and close-to-the-action seats

April 01, 2006|By MICHAEL BARNETT | MICHAEL BARNETT,SUN REPORTER

Whoopee cushions, snow angels, carousels and canines.

It sounds like a recipe for a carnival but all these things and more are waiting inside the walls of Maryland's five minor league ballparks, which strive to make baseball an experience rather than just a game.

"The allure to our fans is that it's not just baseball anymore," says C.J. Johnson, senior director of marketing for the Hagerstown Suns, a New York Mets affiliate. "It's family entertainment that is fun, enjoyable and affordable."

"You can go to an Orioles game and see the best players on Earth or you can come here and see the future of baseball without breaking the bank," says Ryan Sakamoto, director of public relations for the Frederick Keys. "We have a carousel and tons of promotions in between innings. It's more on top of the action than you get sitting a few hundred rows away."

Surveys at minor league parks show an increasing number of fans are coming for the entire minor league experience, not just for the game. "Fans are coming into the ballpark, putting away everyday stresses and leaving with a smile," says Nicholas Mirabello, director of marketing communications for the Delmarva Shorebirds.

Perhaps the biggest draw for these teams is their ability to host near-professional-level baseball at very low prices.

The Shorebirds boast WB3 Dollar Mondays, sponsored by WB3 and WMDT television stations, where fans can get a game ticket, a hot dog and a drink for only $3. In Bowie, the Baysox have $1 Tuesdays and don't charge fans for parking.

"The Suns have seen a 52 percent increase in attendance over two years," Johnson says. "The main reason people are coming out is the promotions. Aside from bobblehead dolls and fireworks, we try to keep it interesting with special promotions, including Eskimo Day. We guarantee it won't be over 40 degrees, and if it is, you get a free ticket. We make snow and have snow-angel-making contests. It brings a new element to sports as entertainment."

The Baysox and the Suns have used this family atmosphere to their advantage, asking their fans to help break world records.

Recently, the Baysox set the world record for simultaneous whoopee-cushion sits while the Suns broke the record for the most simultaneously shoeless fans during the club's Shoeless Joe Jackson Day.

Minor league baseball is also about the intensity which the players play the game.

"I think minor league baseball is baseball in its purest sense," says Ryan Roberts, communications director for the Bowie Baysox. "The players haven't made it yet and are striving hard each game to get to the next level. What you see in the minors are players who really appreciate having the chance to make it."

An interesting aspect of minor league ball is the housing arrangements. Players come from all over the world to play in Maryland but come without a place to live. The enthusiastic fans take these players into their homes.

"Some people have an empty nest in their house and provide [a place to stay] for the players, who really appreciate that hospitality and grow very close with them," says Roberts.

"One of our pitchers, Corey Morris, has stayed with the same host family for three years, even when he was with Frederick. He drives each day from their house, about 45 minutes away from the park. He has grown so close and personal with them that he has become part of that family."

Minor league teams

The season for many minor leagues teams in Maryland begins next week. Here are vital statistics on the teams:

Aberdeen IronBirds

Affiliation:

Class A, Baltimore Orioles

Home field:

Ripken Stadium

Address:

873 Long Drive, Aberdeen, MD 21001

Phone:

410-297-9792

Web site:

ironbirdsbaseball.com

Ticket prices:

$5-$44

Home opening day:

June 23, vs. Brooklyn Cyclones

Bowie Baysox

Affiliation:

Class AA, Baltimore Orioles

Home field:

Prince George's Stadium

Address:

4101 Crain Highway N.E., Bowie, MD 20716

Phone:

301-805-6000

Web site:

baysox.com

Ticket prices:

$9-$14

Home opening day:

April 6, vs. Reading Phillies

Frederick Keys

Affiliation:

Class A, Baltimore Orioles

Home field:

Harry Grove Stadium

Address:

21 Stadium Drive, Frederick, MD 21703

Phone:

301-662-0013

Web site:

frederickkeys.com

Ticket prices:

$5-$11

Home opening day:

April 6, vs. Lynchburg Hillcats

Hagerstown Suns

Affiliation:

Class A, New York Mets

Home field:

Municipal Stadium

Address:

274 E. Memorial Boulevard, Hagerstown, MD 21740

Phone:

301-791-6266

Web site:

hagerstownsuns.com

Ticket prices:

$5-$9

Home opening day:

April 10, vs. Lakewood BlueClaws

Delmarva Shorebirds

Affiliation:

Class A, Baltimore Orioles

Home field:

Arthur W. Perdue Stadium

Address:

6400 Hobbs Road, Salisbury, MD 21802

Phone:

410-219-3112

Web site:

theshorebirds.com

Ticket prices:

$4-$12

Home opening day:

April 10, vs. Lake County Captains

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