With the crowd that showed up at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen on Sunday afternoon, you would think something big was happening, like the Super Bowl champs making a visit. As it happens, that was exactly the case, because the reigning NFL champions from Baltimore descended on the home of the IronBirds for the fourth annual charity softball game, which benefits the Lardarius Webb Foundation.
Webb, who has spent the all of his four-year career with the Ravens as a cornerback and a kick returner, said he was excited by the turnout, which was big enough to fill Ripken Stadium's 6,500 seats.
"With the Ravens fans, how well they support us, I was expecting a lot of people to show up," Webb said. "The fans, they're the ones that made this event. They support us all year long, and this is a good way to give something back to them. Today was big, very big. We've got great fans."
Webb enlisted around 40 of his teammates to play in this year's contest, which, as in years past, pitted the Ravens offense against its defense.
Fans who paid the $14 ticket price were first admitted to the stadium at 2:30 p.m., and batting practice began at 3:30.
Ravens' wide receiver and kick returner Jacoby Jones got the biggest ovation of the 45-minute long batting practice session, as he stopped in front of the home-team dugout and did a brief imitation of former teammate Ray Lewis' famous squirrel dance. On his last batting-practice pitch, Jones, who had a 105-yard kick return during the Super Bowl, laid down a bunt and sprinted to first base in a comical, stiff-legged gait. This, too, brought a loud round of applause.
Several Ravens players posted up near the stadium's padded walls to sign autographs during batting practice, including wide receiver Torrey Smith, who caught two touchdown passes in Baltimore's overtime victory against Denver in the division playoff round earlier this year.
Baltimore's offense dominated the actual game, winning the five-inning contest, 16-7, with the help of smooth-swinging running back Bobby Rainey, and punter Sam Koch. Koch bashed a pitch over the center field fence in the third inning, while Rainey hit a pair of round-trippers. Koch admitted after the game that he had an advantage over some of his teammates, and pointed out his fellow Ravens who obviously did not play baseball as youths.
"I love baseball," Koch said. "I played it from five years old until I was 21 or 22. After high school I played in a semi-pro league with my friends. [Cornerback] Chykie Brown and [wide receiver] Tommy Streeter probably had the worst swings out there. I wanted to show them how to hold the bat the right way."
Koch admitted that he was surprised by the number of fans who came to Ripken Stadium to watch the game.
"It was pretty insane how many people were here," Koch said. "I pulled in the parking lot with my son this afternoon, and we were both like, 'whoa.' We weren't expecting that. This almost looked like an Orioles game, with the amount of cars that were out there."
Monica and Scott Stallings, of Stevensville, were at the game with their 10-year-old son, Scott, an avid Ravens fan, who managed to get seven autographs over the course of the afternoon.
"We called ahead to see what kind of crowd was going to show up, and they told us it was totally sold out, so we were expecting this," Scott Stallings said. "My son is a huge football fan, and he was really excited to get up close to the players. All the players were super nice to the kids, which was great."
"We drove a long way, from Queen Anne's County, but Scott is such a big Ravens fan that we definitely wanted to come," Monica Stallings said. "He really loves Ray Rice, who didn't make it today, but that was okay. He still had a good time."
After the game, a team home run derby took place, and once again the Ravens' offense won, as Rainey and Koch knocked out the majority of their side's homers in an 11-1 victory.
When the home run derby concluded, Webb gave a thank-you to the fans over the stadium's public address system, and afterward he and his teammates signed autographs for several minutes before exiting.
An overcast sky threatened rain the entire afternoon, but it was not until most of the stadium and parking lot had cleared that the first drops began to fall.
Jason Donovan and his son, Ethan Donovan, of Chesapeake City, who each wore a Ray Lewis jersey, were walking to their car after the event.
"This was a lot of fun today," Jason Donovan said. "Ethan got nine or 10 autographs. This is our first time coming to Ripken Stadium. I didn't know how nice it was here. We're definitely going to come back for some IronBirds games this summer."