Six days, six teams, three states, 1,577 miles. The road to "The Show."
Bowie to Salisbury to Frederick. Bluefield to Norfolk to Aberdeen. Call it a double, triple play. Call it the Orioles' Minor League Six-Pack.
Before this season, catching six games at the Orioles' six minor league affiliates within a week was possible. It was, however, wickedly expensive.
But last September, the Triple-A franchise moved from Ottawa, north of the border, to Norfolk. Goodbye, hosers. Hello, sons of the South. All of the sudden, the trip came into focus like an eye chart after laser vision treatment.
One curveball: In December the Orioles became only the third team to have seven North American affiliates in their stable. The Gulf Coast Orioles, an instructional team, play in Sarasota, Fla.
Then a save: A look at this year's version of the Orioles minor league T-shirt shows no traces of the Gulf Coast. Six-pack intact.
Scheduling assistance from the Internet and MapQuest helped establish the itinerary. This year, the staggered starting dates of the teams and the All-Star breaks at each level of play meant the schedules lined up just two weeks - the last one in June and the last one in July.
For the purpose of this series, we chose the earlier opportunity, with the second week as a weather backup.
"Your trip covers the history of minor league baseball," says Bruce Adams, a minor league connoisseur, who with his wife, Margaret Engel, and children spent 60 days covering 25,000 miles to see 85 games in 44 states.
Adams and Engel wrote Ballpark Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Baseball Parks Across America, now in its third printing. Adams, a former Montgomery County official, also founded the Bethesda Big Train, which plays in the Cal Ripken Sr. League, a wooden-bat college league with teams in the Baltimore and Washington suburbs.
"In Bluefield, you have one of the rare examples of when minor league baseball was king," Adams says. "Frederick was cutting edge in the 1980s revival. Bowie expanded on that and Delmarva advanced the game again. Norfolk was rated No. 1 [by Baseball America] and Aberdeen is one of the finest examples of a minor league park today."
Not everyone is enamored of the new ballparks, however.
Dan Collison, an independent documentary producer who has worked for National Public Radio, HBO and Nightline, verbally cringes when he talks about the gussied-up ballparks of today, with their giveaways and stadium seating. Collison and three buddies make an annual summer pilgrimage to America's iconic ballparks.
His idea of pure baseball? Bowen Field in Bluefield, which opened in 1939 and was rebuilt after a 1974 fire, and Municipal Stadium in Hagerstown, the home of the Suns, which opened in 1931.
"Bowie, Frederick, those kind of parks, you can't tell them apart. It's getting so that we're starting to revisit some places, like Bluefield," he says. "Pretty soon we'll be reduced to watching T-ball in a rec league."
But Mike Veeck, a Loyola College graduate and co-owner of six minor league teams, disagrees.
"If you're a little girl, you can go out on the field with the mascot. If you're a little boy, you might get to be bat boy for a game. And if you're mom and dad, you only had to pay $40 for the whole experience," says Veeck, son of legendary major league owner Bill Veeck. "I don't think that family says, 'Eww, this looks like Salisbury.'"
Ken Young, president of the Norfolk, Bowie, Frederick and Salisbury clubs in addition to the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes, says family-friendly facilities and entertainment are needed to stay financially healthy.
First in a series
A week on the farm
Visiting six Orioles minor league teams in six days is a road trip with home cooking
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