The (Minor League) Boys of Summer

A good friend of mine used to say, “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”  — Bull Durham (1988)

Harry Grove Stadium is home to the Frederick Keys.

Harry Grove Stadium is home to the Frederick Keys.

Bright sun. Green grass. Hot dog and a beer (soda for the kids). Nine boys of summer take to the field and you’re part of an essential summertime tradition.

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Zane Lyle Chavez has his eye on the ball during a Frederick Keys game at Harry Grove Stadium.

Baseball.

The wonderful thing about baseball in Maryland is the number of ballparks where you can join this summer ritual. It doesn’t have to be Oriole Park at Camden Yards (although after the winning summer of 2012 and now the jaw-dropping fun of 2013 that’s a great place to be).

Maryland is dotted with family-friendly parks, almost all fielding farm teams for the Orioles. In fact, minor league stadiums are designed for families. They have cheaper admission prices than Orioles tickets — you take the whole family for the price of a field box seat at Oriole Park. Hey, you can even get the best seat in the house for the price of a bleacher seat at Oriole Park. There’s often a fireworks show after the game, promotions for the kids and an experience more “Field of Dreams” than “Major League.” But hurry–The season is shorter than the Major Leagues, running only until about Labor Day.

Ripken Stadium

Bball_IbirdsThe stadium Cal Ripken Jr. built — along with his Major League brother Billy — is part of a huge complex of baseball fields and even a hotel that are home to a baseball academy and the Cal Ripken World Series for kids held every August. Events begin Aug. 9 this year.

One stadium, Cal Sr.’s Yard, was designed to resemble the stadium where the IronMan played his record-breaking season.  The stadium, home of the Aberdeen IronBirds, is an intimate place with only 6,300 seats. And since its opening in 2002, it’s been a popular place to catch a game. The IronBirds are a Class A Orioles affiliate in the New York-Penn League.

Municipal Stadium

BballHSunsHagerstown alone has a stadium affiliated with another team. Now a farm team for the Washington Nationals, the Hagerstown Suns were previously affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays, San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. In 2007, the team began their Class A affiliation with the Nats in the South Atlantic League. Last year, the Suns topped the league’s Northern Division to clinch the division title.

Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium, unlike the other minor league ballparks in Maryland, is an old one. In fact it’s professional baseball’s third oldest stadium. It’s been hosting summer crowds since 1930. But there’s always something new. In 2013, a new Kids Zone will open with arcade, speed pitch and a bounce house. And if you decide to catch a Sunday game, wear red for Red Out Sundays “to send a message that bullying needs to stop,” said Kyle MacBain, director of marketing.

Prince George’s Stadium

BballBsoxThe Bowie Baysox, a Class AA Orioles affiliate, borrowed fields for the first two years of its existence: including the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and the U.S. Naval Academy’s baseball stadium. But finally in June 1994, they moved into a stadium all their own.

Located at the intersection of Routes 301 and 50, it’s a cinch to get here from anywhere in central Maryland. The stadium has hosted the AA All-Star Game, and the 2002 Major League Lacrosse Championship. It’s a pretty big stadium, for a minor league team, with 10,000 seats — 14,000 for really big games. This field of dreams has been the launching pad for lots of Orioles, from Jeffrey Hammonds to Brian Matusz and Manny Machado (the O’s newest All Star).

After every game, kids are welcome onto the field to run the bases. Want to bring your dog? It’s OK on Mutt Mondays.

 Arthur W. Perdue Stadium

BballSbirdsThe Delmarva Shorebirds, a Class A Orioles affiliate in the South Atlantic League, offer a wonderful diversion for beach-goers. Just a half-hour up Route 50 from Ocean City, the stadium also hosts an Eastern Shore Hall of Fame devoted to Delmarva baseball from Amateur to Pro. It’s open during games. The Shorebirds Walk of Fame, located on the concourse, celebrates team members who have made it to the Show, including Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Erik Bedard.

Promotions are big here. Kids can run the bases after Sunday games. Fireworks blast off on Saturday nights. And general admission is a mere two bucks on Mondays — so are the hot dogs and soda.

Harry Grove Stadium

BballKeysThis Frederick stadium beckons baseball fans from Route 70. And the stands are often filled with fans from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The Frederick Keys, a Class A Orioles affiliate, have played at this comfortable stadium for a quarter century. And plenty of the players have made it to the big leagues from here, including Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Jim Johnson.

Sundays are Fundays at the Grove: run out onto the field at play catch and get autographs from two of the Keys up to 30 minutes before game time. Fireworks displays are scheduled after Friday games and kids eat free on Mondays. Kids can run the bases after the end of each game — or after the fireworks.

Regency Furniture Stadium

BballBlCrabsThe Southern Maryland Blue Crabs have a major league pedigree. The team’s owner is none other than the Baltimore Orioles’ legendary third baseman, Brooks Robinson. The team topped the Liberty Division standings at the end of last season.

Their ballpark, Regency Furniture Stadium, was the site of this year’s Atlantic League All-Star Game July 10. Promotions crowd the Waldorf ballpark’s schedule, with give-aways, special appearances and lots of fireworks after weekend games.

This ballpark may have the coolest kids’ area. Crabby Cove features bumper boats that are motorized and outfitted with squirt guns. Mom and dads are welcome to play, too.

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Minor League stadiums specialize in fun for all ages, whether you’re a baseball fanatic or you’re a kid wishing for a ride on the carousel.

Photo credits:
Frederick Keys/Harry Grove stadium photos by Gina Truitt.
Baseball team logos courtesy of the teams

I wrote a version of this article for The Catholic Review for their July 11, 2013, travel section.

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