SALISBURY—Only at a ballpark named for the first family of chicken could you have a left-field fowl pole.
Or a stadium staff called "the flock."
There's Gil and Joyce Dunn, booster club leaders, who take Delmarva Shorebirds into their home, steer many of them through their first steamed crab dinner, cheer them when they're slumping and cheer for them when they're riding high.
And Hannah Seward, who started a Web site for the team four years ago when she was 12 - to profess her undying love - and ended up creating a site where the parents of players can see how their boys of summer are doing.
And Bob and Donna Cummings, longtime season-ticket holders, who sit just behind the visitors dugout and admit that geography makes them tighter with the opposing players and coaches than with the home team. But that doesn't stop them from honking away on a small noisemaker when their favorite Shorebirds come through.
The players love them back.
Mark Fleisher, the big first baseman who moved up to Frederick this season, gave 12-year-old Britteny Colandra the bat with which he hit his first Shorebirds home run. His parents hung out with the Cummings family when they came from Virginia to visit their son.
Other Shorebirds take time to sign scraps of paper and talk with little boys and girls in oversized jerseys and caps who seem in awe of athletes just barely out of their teens.
"Awesome," says Adam Walters, 9, as he stares at the bold, black signature of catcher Brandon Snyder, a player he just met and may never see again. "He's great."
And that, says Mike Veeck, part-owner of six teams, is what makes minor league baseball great.
"It's the first impression. It's the accessibility. It doesn't matter who signed the piece of paper. It could be you or me. But that child is going to remember that experience, maybe for the rest of his or her life," he says.
The Shorebirds, like the Frederick Keys and Bowie Baysox, changed owners in the offseason. Tom Volpe and Pat Filippone, owners of the Stockton (Calif.) Ports, a Single-A team, purchased the Delmarva team from Philadelphia-based Comcast-Spectacor.
Fan favorite 2007Each season, the fans pick a favorite or two. With few accomplishments on their resumes this early in their careers, players often are chosen based on their friendliness.
This year, young fans are wearing homemade T-shirts adorned with No. 10 and the likeness of shortstop Stu Musslewhite, who draws a crowd no matter where he makes a personal appearance, Shorebirds management says.
Hitting .181, the affable Texan seems taken aback by the display of affection and teases his fans, asking where he can buy one of their shirts.
"We give him an extra little oomph," explains Seward, 16, owner of www.goshorebirds.com. "Even if he's not doing well, he knows we're out here cheering for him."
Adds Stacey Thomas, 20, of Parsonsburg, "We cheer for all of them, but we really cheer for the nice ones."