On an overcast, humid Sunday afternoon in July, we decided to visit Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium (referred to as Leidos Field for the remainder of the post), the home of the Aberdeen IronBirds. The IronBirds (whose name is an amalgamation of Iron Man, a nickname for Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr and birds, a moniker for the Orioles) were an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles when we visited in 2018. Members of the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League, the IronBirds played an abbreviated 76 game schedule, stretching from mid June to early September. The New York-Penn League was an entry point into professional baseball, and the teams were chiefly composed on recent college graduate and draft picks of the parent club.
Leidos Field, located in Aberdeen MD, lies along Interstate 95, and is clearly visible from that artery. Living in the DC area, getting to games there could be tricky, as it meant dealing with seemingly unending traffic traveling north into northern MD, and for much of the time I lived near DC, the trip did not seem to be worth the hassle. Though the trip was 60 miles from my home to the ballpark, snarling traffic could make that a 90 minute (or longer) trek, particularly around the time of the evening commute. However, the warm and humid weather, along with the threat of rain, made the journey appear to be tolerable on a Sunday afternoon. Typically, Sunday afternoon in the summer in northern MD could be busy, as people try to beat the traffic leaving after the weekend.
Arriving less than an hour before the scheduled 405 pm start, we found that the parking lot at the ballpark was expansive, to say the least. Leidos Field is part of the Aberdeen complex, which also houses fields for other sporting events. We found parking almost immediately, and unlike most ballparks, parking was FREE. We briefly toured the outside of the stadium, as well as the complex, but there was very little to see or do that afternoon outside of the park. Having purchased tickets online before the game, we entered through the home plate entrance, which led us to the upper concourse. On the upper concourse we found the majority of concession stands, as well as the IronBirds team store (which was well stocked, and we indulged with purchases, including Aberdeen tee shirts).
As is customary for us visiting a new park, we walked along the upper concourse from the left field foul pole to the right field foul pole (the outfield was inaccessible to fans). We discovered that Leidos Field was a modular ballpark that opened in 2002. Much of the seating consisted of green seats divided into a lower deck and upper deck, separated by a lower concourse. Seating stretched from near the left field foul pole behind home plate to the right field foul pole, which was surprising considering the park’s main tenants played a shortened season. A party deck and the Kids Zone lie beyond third base in left field, and luxury boxes extend from dugout to dugout. In total, Leidos Field seats about 6,300 fans, which is a large capacity for the level of play.
A small but functional scoreboard stands beyond the left field fence, and a larger, more elaborate video board is located in right center field. Though not as large as video boards we have seen in other minor league parks, it was nonetheless an impressive piece of technology for a park that is used only for a portion of the baseball season. Bullpens are positioned behind the wall next to the foul poles. It is unusual for minor league parks to have bullpens not in play, but as we explored Leidos Field, we discovered that the park was impressive for any level of play in the minors. It was abundantly clear that the ownership spent a considerable amount of time and effort to construct a ballpark that provides an excellent fan experience in a comfortable setting.
Following our tour of the stadium, we backtracked in the upper concourse to the concessions, located near the home plate entrance. While there were some specialty items available on the menu at some of the concession stands, we chose more standard fare for our baseball dinner, and headed to our seats. Every game since Opening Day in 2002 has been a sellout at Leidos Field (a very impressive feat for a minor league team), and that fact had some influence on the seats we could secure for the late Sunday afternoon game. Though it was clear that the weather would have an impact on the attendance for the game, we could only garner seats in the lower tier just past first base, which provided a less than desirable view of action at home plate. Undeterred, we settled into our seats and awaited the start of the game.
On that afternoon, the IronBirds hosted the Auburn (NY) Doubledays, a team named for the supposed inventor of baseball. The Doubledays were an affiliate of the Washington Nationals, so there was a flavor of a local rivalry in Leidos Field that afternoon. Skies remained cloudy through the afternoon into the early evening, but conditions remained dry (with thunderstorms remaining distant from the ballpark in Aberdeen). Though the game was technically a sellout, there were far fewer than 6,300 people in the ballpark. Threatening skies and a late start on a Sunday may have been contributory factors with respect to attendance, but the ballpark looked and felt as though it was mostly empty.
Generally, the level of play in the Class A Short season is entry level; after all, most of the players are getting their first taste of professional baseball. However, it was fairly clear early that both teams were polished, and the level of play was better than I expected. Pitchers tend to lag hitters when it comes to development for the younger ballplayers, with control of their arsenal being the main sticking point. Both pitching staffs acquitted themselves well during the game, though the Aberdeen starter unleashed consecutive wild pitches in the top of the first inning, leading to an Auburn run. As is usually the case in minor league ball games, there were no pitching changes during play, as the respective staffs are as interested in evaluating how their prospects handle pressure as well as how they display their talent. Game situations do not typically determine lineup changes; those changes are based more on when management has seen enough of a particular player on that day.
Clouds and some mist dominated the weather conditions for the game, but even that could not tarnish Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium. Though the stadium is adjacent to Interstate 95, the ballpark felt as though it was perched in a suburban setting, with lines of trees visible beyond the left field fence. During the half-inning breaks, I spent my time admiring the facility, built as if it was designed for a higher level of play. In fact, the park was one of the finer minor league stadiums we have visited. Low attendance for this particular game made it seem empty, potentially robbing it of charm, which we did not feel on this visit.
Auburn won a tight contest 3-2, though the IronBirds scored a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to make the game closer. Toward the end of the game, the clouds thinned out, and there were a few glimpses of sun in the western sky as evening approached. Had I known that the ballpark was such a gem, we would have made an effort to see it before 2018, despite the ever present traffic issues. Since our visit, MLB made sweeping changes to its minor league system. Besides eliminating about one-quarter of the teams, MLB changed the structure, and Aberdeen was installed as the Class A High affiliate of the Orioles. This change means that they moved up in class, and more importantly, the IronBirds will play a full schedule in 2021. Having a full-time team at Leidos Field seems more befitting of the excellent facility. If you are close to Aberdeen during the summer months, and the IronBirds are in town, we would encourage you to deal with any potential traffic problems and see one of the better minor league ballparks we have seen in our travels.