The biggest sports stories of 2016 were also some of the biggest news stories of the year.
And almost all of them involved Cal Ripken Jr. and the baseball empire he has created in Aberdeen. None of it was particularly good news for Aberdeen, Harford County and the surrounding region.
The Aberdeen-owned Ripken Stadium needs millions of dollars in repairs. And the team that plays in that stadium – the Aberdeen IronBirds – is owned by Cal and his brother, Bill, who have decided to sell minority interest and potentially taken on investors from outside their family. And, The Cal Ripken World Series, which has brought youth baseball teams from across the country and around the world, is not returning for the summer of 2017.
There were only two bits of good news involving Ripken, Aberdeen and baseball in 2016.
The first was the assurance, in the face of the loss of the World Series, that the Ripken youth baseball complex is expected to stay fully operational in Aberdeen. The sale of a part interest in the IronBirds and the withdrawal of the sponsorship of the Cal Ripken World Series were attributed, at least in part, to Ripken Baseball returning to its original goal of helping youth baseball grow.
While not directly related to the IronBirds situation, John Maroon, a longtime spokesman for Ripken, acknowledged the World Series decision is also linked to Cal and Bill Ripken wanting to concentrate on the youth baseball programs.
"They definitely lost a lot of money hosting that event," he said of the World Series, "and it played a role in the decision, but was not the only factor."
The other bit of good news came in mid-December when Tufton Professional Baseball, one of Ripken's corporate entities and the City of Aberdeen signed a new one-year lease for 2017. The Aberdeen IronBirds will pay the city $90,000 for the year, compared to $65,000 annually in the three-year lease that was expiring.
Since it opened in 2002, Ripken Stadium has had little done to it and the deferred maintenance and repairs are estimated at $3.2 million, slightly more than a sixth of the stadium's original $18 million cost to build. About $1 million of that $3.2 million has been deemed in need of more immediate attention.
Shopping the minor league team, which Ripken and his brother, also a former Orioles player, acquired in 2002, is in the discussion stage, according to Maroon.
"There's no for sale sign, it's not a public sale. They are looking for a strategic partner to bring into the team," Maroon said. "The bottom line is they [the Ripkens] have to concentrate on their core business, which is the youth baseball business."
Maroon said the sale of the IronBirds differs from the earlier sale of two Ripken-owned minor league teams, the GreenJackets in Georgia and Charlotte Stone Crabs in Florida, because the team plays in the Ripkens' hometown "and they have such a presence in the community."
As for the play on the field (or the courts, or the mats, or in the pools, or whatever) the best team in the area during 2016 was, undoubtedly, the undefeated Perryville Panthers High School softball team.
Perryville rolled to a 22-0 record and the Class 1A state championship after a nail-biting, seesaw, extra inning win over Boonsboro, 10-9, May 28 at the University of Maryland in College Park.
It took nine innings and three comebacks in College Park for the Panthers to claim their first softball state championship.
"It was really scary, honestly, but I had a lot of confidence in my team though," senior first baseman Lydia Hill said. "I know my teammates very well and I knew they were going to pull it out for us at the end."
The second best team in the area this year also the second best team in the state in Class 1A football.
Heading into the state championship game in December, Havre de Grace coach Brian Eberhardt said he knew his team would have to play about their best game.
The Warriors played well, but lost 35-14, to Fort Hill at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
Fort Hill won its fourth straight state title.
Fort Hill (14-0) is only the second program in state tournament history to win four straight, matching Urbana's run from 1998 to 2001. The Sentinels finished their 18th undefeated season, extending their own state record. They also set a state record for most points in a season — 682.
The Warriors (11-3) knew exactly what they were facing after falling to the Sentinels, 44-14, in last year's state final.
"I'm proud of these guys," Eberhardt said. "Who would have gave us a chance to come back here again, back-to-back, after graduating 15 seniors last year? I'm betting that odds were probably against us for coming back, so I'm extremely proud of these guys."