Aberdeen baseball fans pack Ripken Stadium for 'Birds opener

If the baseball gods have anything against the Aberdeen IronBirds, and it would appear they might as the 11-year-old club has suffered through more than a few tough seasons recently, it did not show on Monday night, when the IronBirds opened their 2013 season at Ripken Stadium to a sell-out crowd and picture-perfect weather, at least at the start.

It was 81 degrees with a slight breeze out to center field, and 6,000-plus fans were there for the first pitch of Aberdeen's 7:35 p.m. contest with the Hudson Valley Renegades.

Toward the end of the game, when the IronBirds were on their way to a 5-0 loss to the Renegades, lightning could be seen over the roof of the home team's clubhouse, but the rain held off through the final out.

Prior to the game, local artist Nelly's Echo, who gave a one-man acoustic set at Ripken Stadium's front gate from 6 to 6:30, performed the national anthem. As a Maryland resident, he knew to take several seconds off to let the fans yell "O" near the end of the song. Nelly's Echo came back during the seventh-inning stretch to sing God Bless America.

Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch was Peyton Funk, granddaughter of Ripken Baseball employee Ginger Christensen, who passed away during the IronBirds' off-season.

Jerry Bainbridge, who attends nearly all of Aberdeen's home games in loud IronBirds' apparel, said from his seat in the picnic area next to Conrad's Crabs that he was no stranger to opening-night contests.

"I've been to every single one of these," he said. "From 2002 until now. I was here for the first official pitch in this stadium. I can only remember missing one home game in the last few years."

In those 10 previous seasons, the IronBirds have failed to make it to the New York-Penn League's playoffs, but Bainbridge said he's hopeful every year that they will.

"We almost got in that one year, [2006], but it's been tough lately," he said. "You start every season with a bunch of new guys, and the roster is so fluid, that the players have to gel very quickly. That's the hardest part about [playing at] this level."

Attending his first IronBirds game was Mike Tager, who drove up from Baltimore and met friends at the stadium.

"This is my first time here," Tager said. "This is really a beautiful stadium. I'll definitely try and get back for a few more games. I try to keep up with most of the Orioles' farm teams, to see who's moving up. You always want to see the minor league teams doing well, and having players go up the ladder."

Monday's game fell short of those two goals as Aberdeen, for the first time, was shut out in its first game of a new season.

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