Saturday, Sept. 1—Hallelujah! The Renegades shut out the IronBirds 2-0 to clinch the McNamara Division and I was in Aberdeen to see it and share the celebration. Now we need to see whom we will face in the playoffs, which are scheduled to begin Friday, Sept. 7, two days after the final game of the regular season. It’s been a long wait, 13 years, since the championship of 1999, when the Gades were last in the playoffs. But that’s getting ahead of a great day with a lot of highlights before Bob Hand and I even got to Ripken Stadium.
By noon we had checked out of our motel and were rolling along Maryland Route 22 and U.S. Route 40 into Aberdeen proper, destination the Ideal Diner, where I had eaten with my father and son during past visits. Unfortunately it was closed for repairs, but the Aberdeen Diner, a short distance down and across Route 40, was open for business and we soon were savoring the Royal Flush breakfast (scrambled eggs, pancakes, hash browns, toast, bacon, sausage and coffee), which must have been designed for folks who don’t want to make a lot of decisions about meal components early in their day.
Our next stop was the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground, established in 1917. We were particularly interested in a collection of tanks from numerous friendly and hostile nations. The Army is in the process of relocating the bulk of the museum and the tank collection to Fort Lee, VA, and the museum building was closed until 2013, but there was still plenty to see in the large field around it, free of charge. Despite temperatures in the low 90s and humidity that must have come close, we spent upward of an hour checking out what remained of the collection, including some of the earliest British tanks from World War I (the name “tank,” we learned, came from the efforts of the British to disguise these new weapons by covering them in a way to make opponents think they were tanks of water). Other tanks and artillery came from the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union (captured in Korea).
Particularly eye-catching to me was a huge artillery piece whose 16-inch shells were nearly as tall as I am (6-2). It was designed for a class of battleships that was never constructed, so instead it was added to the nation’s coastal defenses. I was also intrigued by a Soviet tank, complete with a red star, that bore the name Suvorov (in Cyrillic letters), a class of tanks named for Alexander Suvorov, a great 18th-century Russian military commander. I had learned about him and the names of several classes of Soviet weaponry while studying Russian in the Army in 1971 but the names took on a whole new significance when the armaments were right in front of me.
In general, it was interesting to make even a quick cursory examination of the differences among the tanks of various nations and times. A fine-looking German Leopard tank seemed to be of particularly solid construction and design, some of the Soviet models less so. It was even more interesting and poignant to realize how cramped and uncomfortable the interiors must have been for the soldiers inside them—one of whom was my father, a radioman in the Seventh Armored Division in Europe in World War II. Always inclined to look at things from as many perspectives as possible, I thought about all the wealth that was poured into these and other weapons of war and how, in a less hostile world, that wealth might have been able to be used for improvements around the planet that might have lessened the reasons nations went to war in the first place.
I had mixed feelings about the less than stellar maintenance of the collection in general, even allowing for the shift to Fort Lee. Despite budgetary concerns, there is something to be said for a little rustproofing and repainting, weedwhacking where mowers can’t reach and keeping tires inflated. On the other hand, there is a hopeful indication in the tall grass beneath the vehicles and the vines that have grown over some of them that the world can move beyond war. There was definitely a lot to think about on that field.
From the Proving Ground we went some five miles up Route 40 to Havre de Grace, a charming community dating from Colonial times, where the 444-mile-long Susquehanna River flows into Chesapeake Bay. Well kept streets led to Tydings Memorial Park, one of several welcoming locales that made me repeatedly observe that “Havre de Grace got its waterfront right!” There was plenty of free parking on nearby streets and a couple of pavilions near a nice war memorial, where we taken aback by a separate listing for Colored Troops who served in World War I—a not so subtle reminder that the U.S. armed forces were segregated by race not so long ago.
A nice boardwalk with numerous outcrops for welcoming benches wrapped around the waterfront, leading past decoy and maritime museums (no time to visit, unfortunately) to the Concord Point Lighthouse, a charming 36-foot-high structure built in 1827, a year later than the Stony Point Lighthouse on the Hudson River, which it resembles in its shape and whitewashed walls. Originally illuminated by whale oil, it was automated in 1920 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in Maryland.
The first keeper was John O’Neill (1768-1836), a local hero of the War of 1812 who was injured and captured while defending his community with a cannon against a British attack 3 May 1813. The British were about to hang him for treason but released him after his daughter interceded. O’Neill served as town commissioner as well as lighthouse keeper.
The tower was open today, thanks to volunteers from the Friends of Concord Point Lighthouse, so Bob and I wound our way up a 27-step circular staircase and then up an eight-step ladder to the light itself, where our efforts were rewarded with a splendid view of the bay, the river, the park and the nearby neighborhood.
Back on the ground, I paid a quick visit to the cozy Keeper’s House a couple of hundred feet away. While purchasing a souvenir booklet in the front room gift shop I had a nice chat with the lady behind the counter. The Friends, not unlike the Bear Mountain Bridge Road Toll House folks and my Van Cortlandtville Historical Society back home, do what they can when they can in terms of opening the tower and house to visitors, based on the availability of volunteers, who are always in short supply. That sounds very familiar, I said as I shared my own experiences along those lines. As she closed the place at 5 p.m. I dropped a couple of dollars in the donation container (always happy to support likeminded folks) and thanked her and her colleagues for their efforts to preserve our history.
It was too early to go to the stadium, so at Bob’s suggestion we returned to Aberdeen and had supper at Pat’s Pizzeria, splitting a small pie (half mushroom for me, half sausage for him) and some cold sodas. Much refreshed, we then went to a nearby Wawa, where we picked up a bag of ice for his cooler and I redeemed my Extra Innings coupon from last night (given to anyone who remains when a game goes into extra innings) for a cup of pumpkin spice coffee.
It was pushing 6:30 by the time we arrived at the stadium. We picked up our tickets at the will-call window, where the clerk remembered us from last night. We were in Section 210, Row B, a little farther out than last night, with Glen and Alice to our left, Dolores and Brian Finneran (parents of pitcher Rob, down from their Long Island home) and, behind us, Charles’ Epperson’s family and, for a time, Richie Shaffer’s Aunt Kim. What we lacked in numbers we made up for in volume whenever the Renegades did something good.
We did not have long to wait. Justin O’Conner cracked a double in the second inning and scored what proved to be the winning run on a single by Joel Caminero, prompting a round of “Hey! Ho!” Charles Epperson drew a walk in the seventh and scored an insurance run on a double by Marty Gantt. Meanwhile, Matt Spann, Brandon Henderson and Ryan Garton were setting down the IronBirds in scoreless fashion before an official attendance of 6,580 fans. Please click here to read the game story on the Gades’ Web site.
The Renegades faithful broke a deafening near-silence after the final out, and the P.A. announcer extended the IronBirds’ congratulations to the Renegades on clinching the division championship, their first since 1998 (when current Manager Jared Sandberg was a player) and only their second since the establishment of the franchise in 1994. While not planned this way, a fine 12-minute display of fireworks put a nice exclamation point on the victory.
On the lighter side, Glen and I caught a T-shirt during a sixth-inning toss and gave it to Charles’ little sister Avery, who was thrilled beyond description. Four-year-old Mason Jack sang The Star-Spangled Banner before the game and, despite changing keys a couple of times, gave a more sincere and accurate rendition than what I have heard from some adults. Bob and I later had an opportunity to congratulate Mason and his mother, Tina, who told us he also likes to sing God Bless America, which was not sung last night or tonight. It turns out that Tina is part of a performing group called Catty Shack Girls, five of whom were gathered on the concourse; Bob suggested that, if she, Mason and the others are ever in the Hudson Valley, they might consider trying to work out something at Dutchess Stadium and gave Tina contact information.
After the fireworks we headed past the clubhouse, where we congratulated Jared and Marty, shaking hands still wet from celebratory champagne. We then positioned ourselves between the clubhouse and the Marriott hotel, where we congratulated the players as they came by, enjoying good conversation with the Eppersons and Finnerans in between. Jared thanked us again for coming down and supporting the team. We told him we were so happy for the team and everybody associated with it, and he in turn said he was really happy for the fans.
Players and families eventually drifted off to celebrate. Bob and I had a long drive ahead of us and opted to make do with the nourishment we already had instead of returning to Wawa for more coffee. My car’s dashboard clock showed 10:57 as we left Ripken Stadium. Mercifully, traffic was normal as we headed up I-95, the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I-295, I-195 and the Garden State Parkway, staying fairly close to each other (just in case of a problem, which mercifully did not happen) until Exit 163, where Bob headed up Route 17 while I continued up the parkway. After gassing up at the last service area before New York, I continued without mishap across the Thruway, up the Palisades Interstate Parkway and across the Bear Mountain Bridge, arriving home safe and sound, thank God, at 2:33 a.m., 213 miles from Ripken Stadium, tired but happy.
Next post: The Renegades travel to Troy to play the Tri-City ValleyCats in the final three games of the regular season, with home-field advantage in the playoffs at stake.