Friday, Aug. 31—With a division championship to clinch and no more home games until the playoffs, I followed the Renegades to Aberdeen, MD, for their games tonight and tomorrow with the IronBirds at Ripken Stadium. Traffic at the start of the Labor Day weekend was brutal, with congestion seemingly on all major routes, but I arrived at my motel in time to unwind a bit and have a bite to eat before going to the ballpark. I called Bob, who had been working late on a big project, and learned that he was stuck in heavy traffic in the Trenton area of New Jersey and did not expect to reach Aberdeen until well after the game started.
Ripken Stadium, adjacent to Exit 85 of Interstate 95, is the centerpiece of a classy baseball complex at the end of a long approach drive. I parked for free (as opposed to paying $5 at The Dutch) in a large paved lot, picked up my ticket at the will-call window, called Bob to confirm that his ticket was waiting for him and headed into the stadium. The concession stands are along, not behind, the concourse, so you can still watch the game while getting food (which includes such local delicacies as crabs). Glossy-paper “First Pitch” booklets with current standings, a summary of the previous game and a preview of tonight’s contest, along with feature articles (such as one about IronBirds outfielder Manny Hernandez honing his swing by hitting lemons with a broom handle in his native Guatemala), are available free. Despite my Renegades hat and blue jersey (a good choice; the players were wearing blue tonight instead of the usual road gray) everybody was friendly, pleasant and welcoming, and before the night was over I would share plenty of good baseball conversation with several nearby IronBirds fans.
Our seats were in Section 206, not far from the Renegades dugout. I went down by the field during the warm-ups to wish the team well in the quest for the two final victories needed to clinch the McNamara Division. Jared Sandberg was in his usual spot coaching at third base and said he was feeling better, which was good to hear.
The U.S. flag was flying at half-staff tonight because, I was told, the IronBirds were honoring astronaut Neil Armstrong, who died Aug. 25, the first man to walk on the Moon, on the occasion of a blue moon (second full moon of the month).
Bob finally arrived about 40 minutes after the game started and was quickly at home. Among other Renegades faithful on hand for the game were Glen, the home plate usher, and his wife, Alice. Later in the game we were joined by Charles Epperson’s family, including mom Ivy, stepdad Rodney and toddler sister Avery, a real charmer with a great smile.
Ferrous, the big blue mascot of the IronBirds, was bouncing about the stadium throughout the game, joined for a while by his sidekick, Ripcord. Midway through the game a trio of youngsters wielded giant toothbrushes to clean the bases.
The game was a pitchers’ duel that the Renegades, coming from behind as they have done so many times this season, finally won 2-1 in 11 innings. Aberdeen bunched two singles and two sacrifice flies to score a run in the fifth, and that lone tally was looking good until Richie Shaffer cracked a one-out homer in the top of the ninth to tie the contest. Two innings later, Richie drew a two-out walk and scampered home with the running run on a single by Leonardo Reginatto. Marcus Jensen struck out the side in the bottom of the 11th to reduce the magic number to one. Our small but loud group of Renegades faithful bellowed the traditional “Hey! Ho!” after each tally in a stadium that was otherwise muted. Please click here to read the game story on the Gades’ Web site.
We loudly cheered the Gades as they headed for the clubhouse beyond left field, then adjourned to the parking lot for a celebratory gathering before returning to the motel. Bob had not had much nourishment since leaving New York, so after unloading his gear we addressed that issue at the drive-in window of a fast-food place. Back in our room we enjoyed some sports news on TV while continuing to savor the Gades’ victory.
Next post: The Renegades clinch the division championship.