The results on the field may have been disappointing during their four seasons of existence, but at the gate the Aberdeen IronBirds have ranked as one of minor league baseball's all-time leading success stories.
From the first Opening Day, when owner Cal Ripken's mother, Vi, tossed out the first pitch, the Orioles' affiliate in the Single-A New York-Penn League has crammed Ripken Stadium with fans because of the star power of Aberdeen's native son, a first-class facility, free parking, low ticket prices and big league concessions.
Although the team has never eclipsed a .500 record, Aberdeen has sold out every game for four summers and will continue that envious trend in 2006. Only two franchises in minor league history - the Single-A Dayton Dragons are the other - have achieved that feat.
"Ticket sales have been outstanding, and we're well on our way to being sold out again," said general manager Aaron Moszer. "We have gotten great support from not only Harford County, but Baltimore County and City. The community backing has been outstanding."
The IronBirds, who open on the road tonight against Hudson Valley, averaged 6,350 per game last season in a stadium that seats slightly more than 6,000 and Moszer anticipates "a little bit of growth." In excess of 3,500 tickets daily have been sold through full and partial season plans, and group sales account for the majority of the rest. Only a limited number of seats can be purchased on an individual-game basis.
Aberdeen has a backup of 1,400 potential buyers awaiting tickets via one of the season plans. The renewal rate for current holders is above 90 percent, so many of them face a wait.
"We want to offer more people opportunities to see the games, but we don't want to mess with the experience," Moszer said. "We want it to be enjoyable."
Through a relationship with Bo Brooks Crabhouse, the team is offering steamed crabs to the general public (including takeout orders) this season; previously, they were available only for group outings.
And, on July 3 before the game against the Staten Island Yankees, a "crabfest" will be held in the parking lot from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. that will also include hot dogs, hamburgers and corn on the cob. All-you-can-eat crabs will be offered at prices from $36 to $41.
For the kids, a second mascot will be unveiled Friday at the home opener against the Brooklyn Cyclones. Another Aberdeen native son, Jai Lewis of George Mason basketball fame, will throw out the first pitch.
As usual, the roster will comprise primarily holdovers, recently signed players from the draft and those promoted from Rookie-league Bluefield.
Former Orioles catcher Andy Etchebarren returns to manage a team that was 27-48 last year, its poorest record. The high-water mark came in 2003 when the IronBirds finished at 38-38.
"We've got a surplus of guys and there'll probably be changes made up until July 1," Etchebarren said. "Some of our drafts are in the college World Series and some are unsigned. I imagine most or all of the high school guys will go to Bluefield."
Ex-Orioles Calvin Maduro (pitching) and Cesar Devarez will be on the coaching staff with Jesus Alfaro.
20-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 21-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 22-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 23-Brooklyn, 7:35 p.m. 24-Brooklyn, 7:05 p.m. 25-Brooklyn, 5:35 p.m. 26-at Staten Island, 7:10 p.m. 27-at Staten Island, 7:10 p.m. 28-at Staten Island, 7:10 p.m. 29-at Brooklyn, 7 p.m. 30-at Brooklyn, 7 p.m.
1-at Brooklyn, 6 p.m. 2-Staten Island, 5:35 p.m. 3-Staten Island, 7:05 p.m. 4-Staten Island, 7:05 p.m. 5-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 6-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 7-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 8-at Mahoning Valley, 7:05 p.m. 9-at Mahoning Valley, 1:05 p.m. 10-at Mahoning Valley, 7:05 p.m. 12-Auburn, 7:05 p.m. 13-Auburn, 7:05 p.m. 14-Auburn, 7:05 p.m. 15-Jamestown, 7:05 p.m. 16-Jamestown, 5:35 p.m. 17-Jamestown, 7:05 p.m. 18-at Batavia, 7:05 p.m. 19-at Batavia, 7:05 p.m. 20-at Batavia, 7:05 p.m. 21-Tri-City, 7:05 p.m. 22-Tri-City, 7:05 p.m. 23-Tri-City, 5:35 p.m. 25-at Lowell, 7:05 p.m. 26-at Lowell, 7:05 p.m. 27-at Lowell, 7:05 p.m. 28-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 29-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 30-Brooklyn, 5:35 p.m. 31-Brooklyn, 7:05 p.m.
1-at Tri-City, 7 p.m. 2-at Tri-City, 7 p.m. 3-at Tri-City, 7 p.m. 4-Oneonta, 7:05 p.m. 5-Oneonta, 7:05 p.m. 6-Oneonta, 5:35 p.m. 7-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 8-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 9-at Vermont, 7:05 p.m. 10-at Vermont, 7:05 p.m. 11-at Vermont, 7:05 p.m. 12-at Williamsport, 7:05 p.m. 13-at Williamsport, 6:05 p.m. 14-at Williamsport, 7:05 p.m. 16-New York-Penn League All-Star Game at Aberdeen, 7:35 p.m. 17-State College, 7:05 p.m. 18-State College, 7:05 p.m. 19-State College, 7:05 p.m. 20-at Hudson Valley, 5:05 p.m. 21-at Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 22-Staten Island, 7:05 p.m. 23-Staten Island, 7:05 p.m. 24-at Brooklyn, 7 p.m. 25-at Brooklyn, 7 p.m. 26-at Staten Island, 7:10 p.m. 27-at Staten Island, 4 p.m. 28-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 29-Hudson Valley, 7:05 p.m. 30-at Oneonta, 7 p.m. 31-at Oneonta, 7 p.m.
1-at Oneonta, 7 p.m. 2-Vermont, 7:05 p.m. 3-Vermont, 5:35 p.m. 4-Vermont, 7:05 p.m. 5-Lowell, 7:05 p.m. 6-Lowell, 7:05 p.m. 7-Lowell, 7:05 p.m.