Where have those successful teams been built? In little towns outside the Beltway such as Hagerstown, Bowie and Woodbridge. The Nationals and Orioles have minor league teams in those towns that serve as incubators for the major league squads. But watching a future big league player is only a small part of the draw of a minor league baseball game. After all, the vast majority of players you see on the field during any given game will never make it to “the show.”
The thrills of going to a minor league game extend far beyond what transpires on the diamond — unless it’s on the diamond after the game, when a monkey is riding a dog in a Monkey Dog Rodeo. (We saw this at two different stadiums on one recent weekend.) It’s about the creative promotions, the fun giveaways, the artery-clogging concessions, the ease of getting autographs, sitting close to the field without breaking the bank and seeing all of those local advertisements that fill nearly every inch of the outfield wall.
So if you want to spend the next two months going to as many games as possible without forking over major league dollars, let this serve as your guide on how best to enjoy the area’s many minor league offerings. You might not see the next Nats or O’s superstar, but can that really compete with a monkey riding a dog?
The basics: Just a long fly ball from I-95 sits Ripken Stadium, home of the short-season Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, the Aberdeen IronBirds. Owned by legendary former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., the IronBirds play in a sleek-looking, decade-old stadium with open-air concourses, party decks and comfortable seats with terrific sight lines that make it well worth the hour-and-a-half drive from Washington.
Tickets: $9.50-$30. 410-297-9292. www.ironbirdsbaseball.com.
Activities: For kids, there’s an outdoor shed with claw machines, an inflatable slide, a speed gun to clock your fastball and an arcade-style Wiffle ball game. Head down the first base line and grab a seat at the paper-covered tables to crack open some crabs at Conrad’s Crab and Seafood Deck.
Concessions: One of the more popular stands offers county fair-themed fare, including fried Oreos, fried pickles, ice cream sundaes and funnel cake. Most notable of all, however, is the Funnel Cake Baconator with maple syrup, bacon and chocolate sauce. If you’re up for a challenge, head over to the Charred Rib for the Pig Feast: two pounds of ribs and a half-pound of barbecue piled on fries and rolls with a half-pound side of coleslaw.