There’s more interest in the Orioles’ minor leagues this year than in possibly any other year. Some readers have attended minor league games. Others have not. While the International League and Eastern League also have All-Star breaks this week, the other leagues don’t.
As we near the All-Star break, let’s look at the ins and outs of minor league parks to help you plan some trips.
Aberdeen IronBirds: The IronBirds play in the Short-Season New York-Penn League, which has 14 teams. The teams are not only in New York and Pennsylvania, but in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio and West Virginia, as well as Maryland.
The IronBirds’ home is Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, which is just 35 miles from Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Parking is free, and the facility is arguably the nicest and newest (built in 2002) in the Orioles system.
If you’re a seafood fan, the IronBirds offer an added treat on select dates. Special tickets can be purchased for all-you-can-eat crab feasts, which are held in the right-field party pavilion. The seats provide a great view of the action, and each ticket includes a special edition IronBirds crab mallet.
The home season runs through August 30, and the IronBirds feature some of the Orioles’ top prospects, including recently drafted outfielders Kyle Stowers and Zach Watson.
Top draft pick Adley Rutschman, who soon will begin his professional career, is expected to arrive in Aberdeen later this month.
Delmarva Shorebirds: The Shorebirds play in Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, named after the founder of Perdue Farms. In case you didn’t know, the Shorebirds play in Salisbury, about a half-hour west of Ocean City. Perdue Stadium is on the way to the ocean, so you can make it part of your vacation.
Delmarva is one of 14 teams in the South Atlantic League, which has some of the most grueling road trips in minor league baseball. The SALLY league has teams from New Jersey to Georgia, so there are lenghty bus trips.
The Shorebirds had the second-best record in the minor leagues in the season’s first half, and they’re playing well in the second half of the season, too.
Delmarva has Grayson Rodriguez, the best pitching prospect in the Orioles’ system.
Parking is $4, and the Shorebirds play regular-season games through September 2, with playoffs to follow.
Perdue Stadium is just over two hours from Oriole Park.
You can also catch the Shorebirds when they play the Nationals’ affiliate in Hagerstown, which plays in ancient Municipal Stadium. The Suns were once an Orioles affiliate, and if you’d like to see minor league ball that may remind you of “Bull Durham,” go to Hagerstown.
Municipal Stadium was built in 1930, and the great Willie Mays played there. It’s located about 70 minutes from downtown Baltimore.
Frederick Keys: The Keys, who have been with the Orioles longer than any other affiliate, are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.
The Keys play at Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, and they’re in the 10-team Carolina League, with teams from Delaware to South Carolina.
Norfolk reliever Branden Kline is a native of Frederick, and still lives there.
“It’s not really a big city, but at the same time, it’s not small,” Kline said. “There’s not going to be a bunch of traffic at all times, but it’s not small enough where you’re going to see the same people every single day. It’s got a beautiful downtown area.”
Parking is free, and the Keys’ home is about 45 minutes from Oriole Park.
This season, the Keys have DL Hall, the left-hander who was the team’s top draft choice in 2017, and is one of the top prospects in the system.
Their home schedule runs through September 2.
Bowie Baysox: The Baysox began play in 1993 at Memorial Stadium and moved the next year to Prince George’s Stadium.
Bowie plays in the Double-A Eastern League, and when you go to a game there, you’re seeing some of the best prospects in baseball. For years, teams generally placed their top-shelf talent in Triple-A. Some teams still do, but now many players jump directly from Double-A to the majors.
Just 35 minutes from Oriole Park, tickets are plentiful and parking is free. You also could watch an Oriole on injury rehab. This season, Mark Trumbo played at Bowie. Last year, Zack Britton and Jonathan Schoop rehabbed there. DJ Stewart has spent this weekend there.
The Baysox feature a talented team featuring pitching prospects Mike Baumann, Zac Lowther and Alex Wells, as well as outfielder Yusniel Diaz, the most heralded prospect in the Manny Machado trade.
Their home schedule ends on August 25.
Norfolk Tides: Although many Orioles fans have been to the Maryland-based affiliates, few have traveled to see their Triple-A team.
Unlike the others, it requires a stayover, but the Tides’ home, Harbor Park in downtown Norfolk, is less than a half-hour from Virginia Beach.
Parking isn’t free, but it’s just $6 at nearby garages.
The Tides have many recognizable names, Kline, outfielders Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins and catcher Austin Wynns. (Hays is currently rehabbing at Aberdeen.)
They also have two prospects who might see time with the team later this season, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and left-handed starter Keegan Akin.
The drive to Norfolk from Baltimore can take nearly four hours or more if you hit traffic.
Another alternative is to catch the Tides, who play in the spread-out International League, in slightly closer locations.
Norfolk occasionally plays at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where the Yankees have their Triple-A affiliate, and Allentown, home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, top affiliates of the Phillies. Both are about a three-hour drive from Baltimore.
The Tides’ last home game is scheduled for September 2.
Bonus visit: Some readers live in Sarasota, where the Orioles hold spring training. They can watch some of the top prospects in their first games on the back field of Ed Smith Stadium, where the Orioles hold spring training.
Admission for Gulf Coast games is free, and so is parking. Games are played at either 10 a.m. or noon because the heat is so intense, and there are no lights on the back fields.
Rutschman is working out in Sarasota, but his playing time hasn’t been determined. The Orioles’ second-round draft pick, shortstop Gunnar Henderson, will make his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League.
The last home game is scheduled for August 30.
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB
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