"Use a knife, Junior," Bill Ripken said to his older sibling, Cal Jr., as the two sat picking at a pile of steamed blue crabs Wednesday morning at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. "Try some finesse. You're going to smash the shell all into the meat and not get anything."
The brothers, MLB Hall of Fame member Cal, founder and chairman of Ripken Baseball Inc., and Bill, the company's executive vice president, were sitting within the stadium's picnic area, in front of Conrad's Crabs and Seafood deck, and beside the steamed crustaceans there sat a half dozen other menu items that will be available at the Ripken complex throughout the baseball season as part of Double Play Dining, a self-contained concession service deigned to "enhance the overall food and beverage experience" at ballgames.
The switch to an in-house dining and beverage system coincides with the Aberdeen IronBirds' 10th anniversary season. The concessions will be ready for the June 20 home opener.
"We had a lot of challenges when the stadium was first being built, so we had to take an outside vendor," Cal Ripken said. "We were very pleased with how that went; they did a very nice job, but the more you get into a business, the more you want have a hand in every aspect of it, so a couple years ago we started looking into the possibility, when our contract came up, of doing [concessions] ourselves."
"If you remember, we built this stadium before we even had a team," Bill Ripken said. "So, the idea of trying to take everything on wasn't realistic then. But, being in business 10 years and understanding what goes on, when the time's right, the time's right, and as far as not having to rely on anybody else, that gives us more freedom to do some things that are pretty unique in the ballpark."
Taking the place of vending choices available in years past will be the aforementioned Conrad's Crabs, which offers a various fresh seafood items; The Charred Rib, a barbecue and rib joint; the Country Fair Stand, with a selection of carnival favorites like funnel cakes, fried pickles and corn dogs; and the Wing and Burrito Bar, which will have chicken wings and build-your-own burritos. Also taking a spot at the Ripken complex is the Gold Glove Grill, which has as its signature item the Roseda Beef Ripken Gourmet Burger, along with sausages and Philadelphia-style steak subs.
"The logic would be that stadium food now is not what stadium food used to be," Cal Ripken said. "Years ago, when we were growing up, you had popcorn and peanuts, hot dogs and hamburgers, and at all venues now they've gotten a lot more creative. We wanted to spread our wings a little bit and be more creative as well. We've got the Charred Rib, which has some fantastic options, and Conrad's, where you can get the full Maryland crab experience. As we go on, we're going to learn more about what's important to this community."
The bottom line for moving to in-house concessions with Double Play Dining, the Ripken brothers explained, is to give the customers, visiting teams and guests at the Aberdeen complex a chance to experience as many options as possible.
"Food is a shared [pleasure] for most people," Bill Ripken said. "We're going to have quite a few more options, and we can continue to do new things each year. If we add one new thing each season, we'll be doing pretty well."
"It's an integral part of the experience," Cal Ripken said. "In a rushed and busy life, you want to come catch a game, but you don't have a chance to get dinner, so you get dinner here at the park. You want to provide variety and options at every game. And, this can move to the other side of the warehouse, over to the hotel. We have travel teams coming through in groups of 40 or 50 people, and they all want to dine together. We want to provide them a local experience."