'Crustacean Nation' Arrives

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

S outhern Maryland celebrated its brand-new, $25.6 million ballpark in style Friday, with a massive party that stretched from the outfield lawn seats to the luxury boxes and included a tailgate party in the far reaches of the parking lot.

Three hours before the evening's first pitch, dozens of fans gathered in the parking lot of Regency Furniture Stadium in St. Charles to tailgate, grilling hot dogs and drinking beer.

When Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and team co-owner and Baltimore Orioles' Hall-of-Famer Brooks Robinson cut the ribbon on the stadium's front gates, thousands of newly minted Southern Maryland Blue Crabs fans got their first look at the much-anticipated stadium and their welcome to "Crustacean Nation."

"We made it!" Charles County Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large) exclaimed, embracing Robinson at the gates.

Mechanicsville resident Skip Brookbank and friends, all experienced tailgaters, arrived early enough to enjoy their party vehicle of choice, a white school bus named the Bohemian Party Vessel. The residents of Charles and St. Mary's counties built a platform on top of the bus 10 years ago to tailgate at Washington Redskins games but said that they're thrilled to have a professional sports team closer to home.

"We should have had this 18 years ago, but it's better late than never," Brookbank said. "We've never followed minor league baseball, but we will now."

The team and the county spared no expense for the opening gala, with festivities that included parachute jumpers, a rock concert by the Smithereens and an elaborate food spread including a Blue Crabs ice sculpture in the club suite. The acknowledgments and speeches stretched for more than two hours and featured numerous elected officials, including Brown, state Sen. Thomas M. Middleton (D-Charles) and many others.

Nearly 50 government officials who helped assemble funding for the stadium and executives from the companies that planned, designed or built it participated in a ceremony before the first pitch, spreading out along the third-base line. In a brief speech before the game, Charles Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D-St. Charles), who first proposed building a stadium in 1985, said he was amazed that the dream had become a reality.

"This ballpark belongs to the citizens of Charles County, whose quiet words of encouragement kept the fires of this vision burning on this project for more than 20 years," Hodge said.

Brown threw the first pitch directly over the plate to Robinson, after joking that he had warmed up with his 7-year-old son.

Despite the large number of famous names, Robinson was the featured attraction for many fans, and he spent much of the time before the game signing baseballs and shaking hands.

"I just can't believe Brooks Robinson is in Waldorf to run a team here," said 76-year-old La Plata resident Al Henderson, who appeared slightly dazed after Robinson greeted him with a handshake and a grin.

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