Series hits home run for Harford economy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Aberdeen is buzzing with its first Cal Ripken World Series. The hotels are booked full, and the streets were jammed with the welcoming parade yesterday.

There seems to be nothing minor league about the economic impact on Aberdeen and the surrounding region of the festivities associated with the fourth annual Cal Ripken World Series youth baseball tournament, which starts tomorrow.

"We're expecting between 20,000 and 30,000 people in town," said Aberdeen Mayor Doug Wilson. "With lodging, entertaining and food, we're talking about $20 million to $30 million in economic impact on the town and other parts of Harford County."

Banners along the streets and in storefront windows proclaim Aberdeen "Home of the Cal Ripken World Series." Yesterday's welcoming parade on West Bel Air Avenue allowed residents to meet the players, coaches and officials of the games.

"This is going to be pretty big for this town," Wilson said. "There has been nothing to match it in the past."

Some businesses in town, especially the hotels and motels, are beginning to reap benefits from the games, which end Aug. 24.

"We are pretty much sold out for the next 12 days," said Tammy Lowry, director of sales at the Holiday Inn Chesapeake House on Beards Hill Road, less than a mile from Ripken Stadium, where the games will be played.

"I've been here for 10 1/2 years, and I can't recall an occasion where we had every room sold out for such a long period," Lowry said.

At Wingate Inn in Riverside, Roxanne Rivera, the general manager, said, "I don't know if there is a hotel in Harford County that has any rooms vacant. We have been referring people to hotels in White Marsh, Baltimore and at BWI airport. This is wonderful. It's great for the area, and it's especially good for us baseball fans."

To contribute to the festive atmosphere, Rivera said, hotel staff members would wear baseball caps, T-shirts and the uniform shirts of their favorite teams. She said she expects to see a lot of Aberdeen IronBirds attire.

The Wingate has 107 rooms, and full booking produces revenue of about $10,000 a day, Rivera said.

"We have never sold out for 12 consecutive days," she said. "Maybe a few days at a time, but never 12 days."

Lowry said she has been working daily with her counterparts at other hotels in the area, including the Quality Inn, Super 8, Days Inn and Red Roof Inn, to try to house visitors. "All the hotels are working together," she said, "and most of them are sold out or close to it."

That's no big surprise, said Beth Hettinger, director of tourism for Mattoon, Ill., home of last year's Cal Ripken series. She said the boom in hotel business is a preview.

"All of our hotel rooms were full last year," Hettinger said. "We have 600 hotel rooms, and they were all full."

Based on Mattoon's experience, Hettinger predicts a boom for restaurants and retail shops in Aberdeen and the surrounding region.

"I remember last year," she said. "It was crazy. The restaurants were full for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was a bit frustrating. I live here, and it was difficult for the locals to get into a restaurant."

In addition, Hettinger said, "the shops were packed. "People were ... everywhere. All the shop owners reported that their business was up sharply."

Not everybody is happy with the flurry of activity that comes with the games. "There's lots of traffic," said Virginia Adams, who lives at 830 Gilbert Road, half a mile from Ripken Stadium. "You can hardly get onto Route 22. But I guess it is something we can live with."

Wilson said this is just what the state was hoping for when it contributed $7 million to help pay for the construction of Ripken Stadium and infrastructure improvements.

"This will be the big payback for the state," he said. "The state will get a nice return on its investment."

The Ripken series could pay dividends for Harford County for years to come, said John J. O'Neill Jr., the county director of administration.

"It will put our name on the map," he said. "It will draw people from around the country and from around the world. It could be the kind of thing where a business is looking to locate a new plant or a branch office and somebody will say, 'Oh, yeah, I was in Harford County; that's a happening place.'"

Aberdeen Councilman Jerry K. Hansen, who heads the Aberdeen Community Projects Committee, which is tucked into a back room of the Harford County Tourism Council Inc. office next door to the Cal Ripken Museum, has a hand-printed sign above the door that reads: "Funny Farm."

"It has to do with the hectic pace of making name tags, answering phone calls and messages, and coordinating the host families who are housing the players," Hansen said. "Sometimes there are nine people in this room, and it's hard to keep up with what is happening."

Fifteen teams made up of 11- and 12-year-olds will play in the series, including teams from Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, South Korea and Mexico. Tomorrow, the first game will begin at 11 a.m. and the last game at 8 p.m.

"It's good business for the county, but this is mostly about 12-year-old kids and making baseball what is supposed to be - fun," Hansen said.

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