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Aberdeen becomes 'heaven' for Cal Ripken series teams

Unloading a temporary backstop at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen yesterday, Bill Ripken observed that he attended the first three Cal Ripken World Series, starting in 2000, in Illinois and Indiana.

This year, the event has relocated to what is expected to be its permanent home in Maryland, the Ripken Baseball complex that is also home to the Aberdeen IronBirds. Bill said he is thrilled, along with brother Cal, to have brought the event to their hometown.

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"It's great to host it, because it will be like heaven to these kids," said Ripken, referring to the 15 teams of 11- and 12-year-olds who will begin competing Saturday.

Since Monday night, after an IronBirds game, Bill Ripken and crew have been feverishly transforming the main field into a smaller version (60-foot diamond with a 46-foot pitching distance).

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"The international kids have been practicing on our mini-fields next to the stadium today [Wednesday] and I've loved seeing their faces when they've walked out there," Ripken said.

"The kids are smiling and saying it's the best ... they've ever played on," he said. "I'm almost sick to think we just ripped this field up, but the expressions on the kids' faces make it worthwhile. I can't wait to see them when they get on this field to play."

Converting the IronBirds' field took 1,000 man-hours over a 72-hour period and $55,000 to remove and replace 25,000 square feet of sod, 200 tons of infield clay and 150 tons of sand. Also, the temporary backstop had to be installed, along with fences.

The 15 teams in the tournament -- eight regional champions, host Aberdeen and the Maryland state titlist from Bethesda, plus five international teams -- will take part in tonight's parade and banquet.

Opening ceremonies and a home run derby will be held tomorrow and play will begin Saturday on the converted field, with the first of five games at 11 a.m. and the last scheduled for 8 p.m.

Held under the auspices of Babe Ruth League Inc., the series will culminate with a nationally televised title game between the U.S. and international champions at 4 p.m. on Aug. 24.

The league changed the name of its largest division, made up of various age groups (5- to-12-year-olds), from " Bambino" to Cal Ripken Baseball in the summer of 1999. The World Series for 12-year-olds commenced in 2000, with West Palm Beach, Fla., emerging as the champion, followed by South Lexington, Ky., and Visalia, Calif.

South Korea has been the runner-up all three years and is back to try again. The other International Division teams are Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Each will play the other teams in its division in the four games of pool play.

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Host Aberdeen is representing Harford County and is in the National Division with regional champions from the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley and Midwest Plains.

"We've gotten a lot of support from the town with sponsors and all, and we've got 15 kids ready to go and excited about playing where the IronBirds do," said the Aberdeen youth team's veteran manager, Ken Wilson.

The team is composed of 15 of the top players from the six-team Aberdeen house league. All four of its pool games will be under the lights at Ripken Stadium on Saturday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

"We're used to playing under the lights at Aberdeen High School, which was named after Cal [Ripken] Sr.," Wilson said. "We've got two or three pretty good pitchers, and if we catch the ball, we'll be all right."

The Upper Montgomery Athletic Club Little Train is the Maryland state champion and is playing in the American Division with the New England, Pacific Northwest, Pacific Southwest and Southwest champions.

"Our kids are really excited and have actually been working to get here since the first Cal Ripken World Series in 2000, when our kids were 10 years old," said Jim Fort, manager of the Little Train, named for the 20-and-under Big Train of Bethesda that plays in the Clark Griffith League.

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Coming back to defeat Churchville twice in the double-elimination state tournament, the Little Train went 7-1 to advance.

"We're thrilled to be the first team to represent the state in the 12-year-old World Series in Aberdeen," Fort said.

Teams competing

Host Aberdeen; Maryland champion UMAC Little Train, Bethesda; Keene, N.H. (New England); Hilo, Hawaii (Pacific Southwest); West Linn, Ore. (Pacific Northwest); Sylvan Hills, Ark. (Southwest); Egg Harbor Township, N.J. (Middle Atlantic); Lexington, Ky. (Ohio Valley); Scott County, Mo., (Midwest Plains); Glen Allen, Va. (Southeast); Australia; Canada; Dominican Republic; Mexico, and South Korea.

At a glance

What: Cal Ripken World Series, for 12-and-under teams, affiliated with Babe Ruth League Inc.

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When: Saturday through Aug. 24

Where: Ripken Stadium and Cal Sr.'s Yard, Aberdeen

Admission: $5 adults, $3 children; tourney pass, $20.

Information: Call 410-297-9292 or go on the Internet to www.ripkenbaseball.com.


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