Discussing the atmosphere at Ironsbird games with a fan. (Bryna Zumer / BSMG)
On a sunny Labor Day, thousands of people took advantage of the last of the holiday weekend to fill Ripken Stadium for the final Aberdeen IronBirds game this year.
Most of the seats were filled as the team closed on a positive note, with a 2-0 win over the Hudson Valley Renegades, whom the IronBirds also defeated Sunday night.
The game was fairly low-key, with the only runs scoring in the fourth inning. The crowd on the third-base side stayed busy trying to catch foul balls in the second half of the game. And, at one point, a Hudson Valley player threw his bat into the stands.
But for the many orange-clad fans and others who came to the game, the season finale was a chance to mark the end of summer with family and friends, as well as to check out a local minor-league team.
"You wish they'd done better this year, but I think most people who come out to enjoy this level of baseball; they see people here they know," Mark Schlottman, chairman of Aberdeen's planning commission, said as he sat with Havre de Grace's Chip Paradis right behind home plate. Schlottman also came to home games Saturday and Sunday.
"We've had these seats for years and we love coming to games. The games are good, we love the crowds, we're treated real well. We always look forward to the season; the season always ends too soon," he said. "It's just a great atmosphere, family atmosphere; it's perfect, it really is. It's close, for most people, it's reasonable, the kids play, there's never any trouble here."
Bel Air's Richard Smith said he only sporadically attends the games. He was interested to see pitcher Cody Sedlock, who played for the University of Illinois in Smith's hometown of Champaign.
Although "in the minor leagues, it doesn't matter too much," Smith noted players could move on to the Orioles. Smith said he has also gone to see the Delmarva Shorebirds, another Orioles affiliate, play this year.
The IronBirds games are "nice and convenient," he pointed out. "I love it."
Nathan Tillman and Zoe Jones, a couple from Bel Air, who came out with Jones' family, said the game made for a good time.
Steve Brown came from Elkton with his two children, and he said he comes several times a year, as his son plays baseball.
"It's a nice, better place for kids to come than Camden Yards, because it's a lot cheaper," Brown said.
Baltimore's Shaleece Williams, meanwhile, brought her mother, Leslie Davis, to the stadium for Davis' first time. They were enjoying food at the Conrad's Crab & Seafood Deck along with Williams' 2-year-old son, Aubre-Jay, and 1-year-old daughter, Kri.
Davis said her daughter surprised her by treating her to the baseball game.
Williams, a resource coordinator at the Druid Heights Community Center, said she works with more than 300 youth each year and wishes more of them would take advantage of the opportunities at Ripken Stadium.
Aberdeen's Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium needs its railings replaced and repairs made to their supporting concrete, an estimated $1 million project that is only the first of a slew of improvements being considered for the 15-year-old, city-owned ballpark.
"For me, it's just an opportunity to give back to my mother, and I wanted my son to get into sports, so, since he is two, I am just introducing him to different sports," Williams said, explaining this is the second game she has been to with her kids and her son seems to like it.