For a third straight year, the Aberdeen IronBirds held a “Night under the Lights” practice session, allowing interested fans a chance to see and possibly meet this year’s team.
The three-hour practice, took place on a cool and breezy evening Wednesday at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium with a 150 or so fans on hand.
The IronBirds will open the 2019 New York-Penn League season Friday night. Hudson Valley will visit for the sold-out opener. Game time is 7:05 p.m.
This current Aberdeen roster did not have any recent 2019 Baltimore Orioles draft picks on it, but there were 35 players with more than half having spent time in an Aberdeen uniform last season or some year prior.
Coming from extended spring training in Florida, the IronBirds and manager Kevin Bradshaw are eager to to going.
“What I’m hoping to see is, we throw strikes and we hit the ball and we base-run the right way and play good defense,” Bradshaw said. “You know what, we did that in spring training.”
Hopefully that will transfer into the regular season, where the ‘Birds are coming off back-to-back winning seasons. Bradshaw, who missed last season with a torn Achilles, guided the team to a 41-34 mark in 2017.
“The guys we brought up here, we got to play a lot of games in extended spring. They played very well,” Bradshaw said. “They played the game the right way.”
Three current rostered players are back in Aberdeen on rehab assignments. Outfielder Robert Neustrom (Delmarva) was a fifth round pick a year ago, while infielder Alex Murphy, a 2013 Calvert Hall High School graduate, is back from Frederick.
Catcher Cody Roberts (Delmarva), also drafted last season, is also rehabbing.
In Aberdeen as well is hitting coach Tom Eller, a Cecil County resident and former head coach of Harford Community College baseball.
“Big difference going right into pro ball, so I was just trying to learn things, incorporating some new technology,” Eller said. “But I got sent to Delmarva first and it was really good for me because I got to meet with a smaller group of guys and really start incorporating what we taught at Harford.”
Eller had some success leading Harford’s emerging program, but he was seeking more.
“It’s amazing, this winter I actually interviewed with the [Los Angeles] Angels and somehow my name got tossed to Sig Mejdal with the Orioles,” Eller said. “My buddy called me and said ‘Orioles are looking for a hitting coach, would you be interested?’ I said, oh yeah, I’d do that. Next thing you know, Sig called me, set up an interview and I went down to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.”
The new technology has Eller working with Blast sensors and K-Motion vests with each hitter.
Ian Evans, an infielder drafted in the 26th round last season, was in Aberdeen for a short time last year.
“It’s good to be back, I was here about a week and a half last year, so it’s good to be back,” Evans said. “We have a good group of guys. I think the biggest part is Friday, getting in front of a good crowd and playing some real good actual baseball in a good atmosphere. We’re all really excited for that. We’re ready to go, I’ll tell you that.”
Evans is one of nine infielders shown on the roster. As for Wednesday night’s practice, Evans was pleased.
“Having guys in the stands, kids running around, gets you a little pumped up and get you ready for Opening Day. It was fun,” Evans said.
Jean Carmona and Irving Ortega, both in Aberdeen last year, are among the infielders.
In the outfield, some familiar names are present. Jaylen Ferguson, Tristan Graham and Dalton Hoiles have all spent time in Aberdeen.
“Some of these guys that haven’t been up here, realize how nice it is,” Bradshaw said. “Plus the weather, [it’s] very, very hot in May down in Sarasota with the humidity and heat, so it’s been a great change with the weather.”
Reach Randy McRoberts on twitter. @aegissports