In the dozen years since Cal Ripken Jr. and his baseball organization brought the IronBirds to Aberdeen, the short-season team has provided a welcome diversion for many people.
There have been opportunities to see up-and-coming players associated not only with the IronBirds' parent organization, the Orioles, but also associated with other with ballclubs that have been sporting winning records in recent years. Also, there have been top shelf players sent to Aberdeen on rehabilitation assignments, players whom the IronBirds faithful have been able to catch a glimpse of in the intimate setting of Ripken Stadium.
Even without the sports celebrity spotting advantages afforded by the IronBirds and their home turf, the spectacle of professional baseball has been a wonderful addition to Aberdeen, and the rest of Harford County.
The one place where the IronBirds have consistently proven to be a disappointment is in the area of winning consistently.
This year that changed.
The IronBirds had followed in the flight path of the Baltimore Orioles, their parent organization, and the Orioles have, likewise, been disappointing. It's been an especially bitter pill for longtime Baltimore faithful, as the Orioles, and their once far-flung farm system, were an organization with a blue-collar ethic of which its largely blue-collar fan base could be proud. The Yankees and Red Sox, the two other big dogs in the American League East, could afford to buy established top players. The Orioles cultivated talent in the farm system and managed to remain a contender in the same division as New York and Boston.
By the time the IronBirds roosted in Aberdeen, that had largely gone out the window and the Orioles and its organization moved into baseball's basement. A few years ago, the news parody operation "The Onion" went so far as to run a spoof story saying the Orioles had been mathematically eliminated from professional sports.
There have been hopeful signs for fans in the past two years at Oriole Park, and this year the Aberdeen IronBirds not only managed to sport a winning record, but also clinched the top spot in their division of the erstwhile New York-Penn League. Granted, their division, the McNamara, one of three in the league, has only four teams in it, but Aberdeen has managed all too often to wind up at the bottom of the standings.
Maybe the relative success of the Orioles in the past two seasons and the first division topping performance in IronBirds history are reasons to be hopeful about the future of baseball in Maryland.
One way or another, both the IronBirds and the Orioles have provided a welcome diversion from the problems of daily life, and their winning records give that diversion an especially appealing luster.