With a new baseball season comes new hope, and there's reason to believe that hope may be justified this summer for IronBirds watchers.

Granted, since June 18, 2002, the three months of regular minor league baseball available at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen has been a dependable source of a little good clean fun. Whether the home team would win or lose, on the field, the experience of going to the ballpark and taking in the sights and sounds has been enough to foster a little hope in many a fan.

Still, the home team has done a lot more losing than winning. When the stands are full, it is a common experience for most people to be paying rather little attention to the action on the field, except on those occasions when a hot young prospect comes up to bat, or an established star of the game is in the last stages of rehabilitation from an injury.

For a full 10 seasons, IronBirds watchers have come to expect a certain level of play, and that level has been rather low. Last place is typically where the Aberdeen team has found itself in the standings, even as the team continues to be embraced by Aberdeen, kind of like the way the Cubs were long embraced by fans in Chicago.

Those in the crowd at Ripken Stadium could remember a day when the local baseball team was a dependable winner, though that team was the Baltimore Orioles of a generation ago. Since the Orioles hatched the IronBirds into the ballclub's farm system, the Baltimore birds have managed to lay an egg every season, and the IronBirds have followed suit.

But then came last year and the Orioles played well enough to earn their way into the playoffs. And this season, they're doing pretty well.

Will the IronBirds follow the lead of the Orioles and end the season with a winning record, or at least not in last place? The only way to find out is to play the games, and those games begin on Monday night. But moreso than in any year since the first, there's good reason to be hopeful about the home team's prospects.