Projected as the everyday center fielder for the Shorebirds, Cedric Mullins has done nothing to jeopardize his position on the squad. He unseated last year’s center fielder, Ademar Rifaela (who now spends most games over in right field) and is doing those things a prototypical center fielder does: bat leadoff, lead the team in stolen bases, and collect a fair share of extra base hits he’s legged out. Millins is tied for the team lead in triples with (surprisingly) catcher/DH Yermin Mercedes and trails only Mercedes in doubles. There’s no doubt Mercedes can hit a ball hard and far, but Mullins can find a gap and put himself in scoring position in a multitude of ways.
Mullins has also been consistent thus far in his career, trading a .264/2/32/.709 OPS slash line in 68 Aberdeen games last season for a .256/2/14/.726 OPS line this year. He’s already swiped 12 bases in 39 games (out of 14 attempts) putting him on pace to break his mark of 14 by midseason. A 13th round selection from Campbell University last year, the 21-year-old switch-hitter has the advantage of playing a few times a season in his birthplace of Greensboro, North Carolina. (So far, though, he is 0-for-9 there with five strikeouts and a walk in two games; he was a healthy scratch on Monday.)
But it seems like Mullins is, for the most part, doing the things he needs to do to continue moving up the ladder. At this point he has about a 2-to-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks, which is hindering his on-base percentage (it’s .326, which is right around league average but a few points below the Shorebirds’ mean – yet also consistent with his .333 mark for the IronBirds last season.) On the other hand, the walk-drawing machine D.J. Stewart has an OBP that is 164 points above his batting average, so if Mullins can just bring his K/BB numbers to be equal he would be a more definite offensive threat, with an OBP roughly 100 points above his batting average. (League average is about 75 points, so 100 points over would be exceptional.)
Thus far Mullins has been the solid-average player the Shorebirds seem to have a lot of this year as they compete for the first half SAL title. It may not get him accolades, but players have made good careers out of being consistent and dependable.
Selected out of the University of Oregon last year in the 3rd round, Shorebird lefty Garrett Cleavinger was named as the Orioles’ organizational pitcher of the month for April. So once I saw him pitch in a game and got his picture, it was high time I selected him as a Shorebird of the Week. While he had pretty impressive numbers with Aberdeen in his first taste of pro ball (6-1, 2.16 ERA and 1.28 WHIP in 25 innings over 19 appearances) one red flag was the 18 walks he allowed – more than the 14 hits.
So perhaps one of the reasons Cleavinger, who just turned 22 last month, earned the top honor was the fact he’s cut his walks way down while ostensibly facing better competition. In 22 2/3 innings so far this season, Garrett has cut the free pass rate in half, allowing nine thus far. Even better, he’s struck out 33 so far to rank fourth on the team behind three members of the starting rotation. Cleavinger is wiping out hitters at a torrid pace, improving on a great strikeout rate from last season – for his career so far, he’s averaging 12 Ks per nine innings. So far on the season, Garrett is 4-0 with a 1.99 ERA in 22 2/3 innings, over 10 appearances. (It’s a very impressive 10-1 career record for Garrett with an equally gaudy 2.08 ERA.)
One thing the Orioles seem to be doing with Garrett is stretching him out for possible starting duty. While none of his appearances with Aberdeen lasted more than two innings, four times this season Garrett has thrown three innings in a game, generally coming in as the backup pitcher once the starter gets his five innings in. Cleavinger has one save on the season, but tends to be the setup guy in the sense that he’s covering the later innings – it’s just one guy instead of the typical big league program of a 7th inning guy and 8th inning guy setting up the closer.
It would not shock me to see Cleavinger selected to the SAL All-Star team then get a promotion to Frederick immediately afterward. The Orioles seem to prefer to move their early-round college guys up the ladder rather quickly, and perhaps if Cleavinger had the walk rate he sports for Delmarva last season as a member of the IronBirds he may have skipped us altogether. I think by year’s end we will see how his stuff plays in the Carolina League.
Before the season began, the baseball pundits were excited about two players ticketed for the Shorebirds, as they were the first two players Baltimore selected in the 2015 amateur draft. While he was considered a 1st round selection, Ryan Mountcastle was actually the second choice for the O’s but the first high school player Baltimore picked, taken from Paul J. Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Florida.
Mountcastle seems to be a slow starter at each new level. While he had two hits in his pro debut, he started in a 4-for-27 slump for the GCL Orioles last season before rebounding to hit .313/3/14/.760 OPS in 43 GCL games. Later last year with Aberdeen, Ryan only hit .212 (7-for-33) in 10 games to wrap up the season. But the Orioles seem to be willing to push the 19-year-old prospect, and he had some growing pains here, hitting just .162 in 18 April games.
But the turn of the calendar may have been the impetus to get Mountcastle going, as he has hit .412 in May (14-for-34) to bring his average up to a very respectable .245 mark. While that’s not going to win a batting title, it’s a positive development to create a .245/1/8/.653 OPS slash line. It puts him in a good position to be in the high .200s by the end of the first half – and remember, he’s playing against competition that averages a couple years older. (One interesting split Baseball-Reference features is performance against older/younger players, and Mountcastle likes younger pitching – he’s 2-for-4 with his home run and a double against pitchers younger than he. Too bad there’s so few in the SAL.)
Another area playing the full season will allow Ryan to develop is his fielding, which is reasonable but not consistent (6 errors in 25 games.) With the exception of 3 GCL games where he played third base – and committed two errors - Mountcastle is being developed as a shortstop and has had plenty of opportunity to be a consistent part of the lineup. Granted, as a first round pick the Orioles invested thousands of dollars into, he will have a lot longer leash and more of a shot than the guy they picked in the 24th round.
Continuous improvement, though, will allow the Orioles to believe they are getting their moneys’ worth.
Remember when Dylan Bundy blew into town a few years ago and was flat-out untouchable at this level? It took 17 innings for an opponent to score an unearned run on him (after he retired the first 26 pro batters he faced.) But this week’s Shorebird of the Week has that inning streak beat, as Christian Turnipseed pitched his first 33 2/3 professional innings without giving up a run of any sort – that streak, which began when he made his pro debut last year, finally came to an end April 22.
Now Christian isn’t your prototype pitching prospect like Bundy was. Short and stocky for a pitcher – he’s listed at 5′-11″ and 214 pounds – the 23-year-old native of Colorado went to Georgia Gwinnett College, from which only a handful of minor leaguers have come. (One is a former SotW from last year, Zeke McGranahan.) But so far he has defied the odds of a 28th round selection and had strung together 25 consecutive scoreless appearances before Greensboro got him for three runs last month. In eight innings so far this season, Christian has allowed just those three runs on five hits, striking out 11 while walking four, for a WHIP of 1.13. (For his brief career, Turnipseed has a WHIP of 0.74, which translates to about 7 runners per 9 innings. It’s tough to score runs with so few on.)
Turnipseed projects strictly as a reliever – his latest appearance against Greenville tied his career long of two innings. He’s picked up 13 career saves in 25 appearances, with four of those coming with the Shorebirds. (Having given up no runs, he obviously hasn’t blown any saves either.) I just waited to name him a Shorebird of the Week until his string was over so I wouldn’t jinx him. Since he turns 24 later this month, continued success here may merit a midseason promotion to Frederick just as Turnipseed split time between the GCL and Aberdeen last year.
It may give him a calling card besides his unusual last name.
It’s been a custom of mine that, if a Shorebird player is named as the South Atlantic League Player of the Week and I haven’t already picked him during the season, that player gets the honor. Not that Yermin Mercedes didn’t deserve to be that player after decimating Greensboro and Kannapolis pitching to the tune of 13-for-25 in the six games, with eight of those hits going for extra bases, including a home run and 10 RBI. And perhaps it’s a sign of the 23-year-old Dominican’s maturity at the plate that, at least last Sunday at the game I witnessed, he beat the shift for two opposite-field hits, a double and a triple.
With last night’s game now in the books (I didn’t get a chance to update from this morning’s contest) Mercedes is now 19-for-39 in his last 10 games, increasing his average from .267 to .424 and moving into the league lead for batting. His OPS is a sick 1.139 because he’s leading the team in extra-base hits with 12 (out of 23 hits overall.)
Mercedes has used his bat to break into the catching rotation envisioned by the Orioles when they drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft back in 2013. (One of those catchers, Alex Murphy, now splits his time between catching and playing first base with Delmarva, the others are further up the organization now.) Yermin is one of those guys who seemingly could roll out of bed and go 3-for-4, owning a career .297 batting average in his sixth pro season. Admittedly, that has been fattened up somewhat by playing a season in the almost absurdly hitter-friendly baseball outpost of the independent Pecos League (with its aggregate league batting average of .314 in the season he played there, 2014) but he’s hit well at almost all of his stops. You may wonder how such a hitter washed out of the Nationals’ organization after three seasons with their Dominican Summer League team.
The answer may be that his defense behind the plate is a work in progress - Mercedes has already been charged with 9 passed balls in 13 games behind the plate after eight in 53 games with Delmarva last season, (By comparison, the Orioles’ Matt Wieters has 18 passed balls in a seven-plus season MLB career.) Some of that could be the pitching, but at times Yermin struggles behind the dish. And while Mercedes has flirted with playing first base (30 games over four seasons, but just one since 2013) and third base (27 games, all but one in the Pecos League), it’s likely that the ticket for him to get to higher levels will come through improving his defense. Although it’s doubtful he can maintain a .400 average for the rest of the season, I think the Orioles would be happy if he hit .300 but kept the defensive mistakes to a minimum.
It seems like every year or two the Shorebirds get a fresh-faced infield prospect from the Miami area – most recently we had Adrian Marin, who now plays for Bowie, and a couple years before that there was some guy named Machado who was here long enough to mess up the first of two knees. (Fortunately, he’s also made a couple All-Star teams and won some hardware, too.) Now we have Alejandro Juvier, who’s not as highly regarded (as a 15th round pick out of Doral Academy, where he was the first player drafted from the school) but is still working his way up the Orioles’ organizational totem pole after splitting 2015 between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen.
The 20-year-old had a nondescript rookie year, hitting just .178 for the GCL Orioles in 2014, but the second bite of the apple proved to be better as Juvier hit a combined .307/0/18/.742 OPS between the two levels, combining 29 GCL contests with 17 games at Aberdeen. So it’s been a push to this level for Alejandro, but so far so good as he’s hitting a respectable .250 in 10 games (9-for-36.) The OPS, however, is a paltry .539 and that is definitely something the slender left-handed hitter will need to improve upon at this level. When power is not your strong suit, getting on base is a must and thus far Juvier has a 12-to-2 ratio of strikeouts to walks. Yet average-wise he is one of the leaders on a Shorebirds club off to a slow start at the plate (a collective .216 average at this early juncture.)
Another asset Alejandro has is speed – in 96 career games to date he has 15 stolen bases, which over a regular Shorebird season would get him into the 20-25 range. Even developing some line-drive gap power could make Juvier a threat to fill up the stat sheet by turning singles into doubles and doubles into triples.
In the game where I took this photo (Sunday) Alejandro was the 9-hole hitter and that seems to be a spot very suited for him – not a lot of power, but potentially enough on-base percentage and good speed to turn the lineup over. Juvier has moved around the infield as well, playing mainly second base with a little bit of shortstop in the GCL but lately seeing more time at third base for both Aberdeen and Delmarva. To me, offensively he projects as more of a second baseman as it’s not traditionally as offensive-minded as other positions – although Jonathan Schoop turns that assumption on its ear at the big league level.
So we will see if Juvier can keep up with this level or regress back to Aberdeen at mid-season. He has a good chance to stick if he can bump his on-base percentage up to about .325 so the top of the order can do its damage. It’s something to follow as the season develops.
So far this season has seemed like deva vu all over again for Alex Murphy. But once May rolls around I’m sure the product of Baltimore’s Calvert Hall High School will be ready to flip the script.
Back in 2013, the Orioles drafted four catchers in the first 11 rounds of the draft. All four remain active in the organization, but Murphy as the third one selected (6th round) is now the low man on the totem pole. Second-rounder Chance Sisco is with Bowie while fourth pick Jonah Heim and eleventh-rounder Austin Wynns are splitting the duties at Frederick.
Murphy may have been Frederick-bound this year after he got off to a great start at the plate. While his average had dipped to ,258 after 32 games last season, Murphy was still among the league leaders in RBI with 28 when he was injured May 15. Murphy missed three months of the 2015 campaign, and by the time he was ready to come back the more experienced Yermin Mercedes had established himself as the Delmarva starting backstop. (Mercedes recently rejoined the Shorebirds as well.)
So Murphy finished the 2015 season by going 0-for-8 with a walk in two rehab games with the GCL Orioles before 15 games in Aberdeen, where he hit .291/2/8/.898 OPS. (OPS is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage – .700 is considered about average.) The hot bat has continued into this season, where the 21-year-old is 10-for-27 (.370) with a home run and nine knocked in for his first seven games. He’s the only player to appear in all seven contests so far in this, his third tour of duty with the Shorebirds.
Yet one key difference that may indicate a change of direction going forward is that 2 of the 5 games Murphy has spent in the field came at first base. It’s not completely unusual to make that position switch, but at this level it could be an indicator that Murphy is seen as less of a catching prospect and more of a hitting one – first base is regarded as a hitter’s position. It also may keep him fresher, although it’s not like the Orioles’ organization isn’t stacked with great-hitting first basemen.
Murphy’s potent bat may be the calling card that keeps him going in the Orioles’ system. While they invested heavily in catching for the future three years ago, baseball has a way of putting players where they best fit and Alex could be one of those guys.
Let the retirement tour begin. Unfortunately, the exhibition game with Salisbury University was rained out so I couldn’t get any photos of the new guys – however, there are a few holdovers who deserve their time in the sun, too.
I was impressed when I saw this young man make his Shorebird debut last August 20 – even though Greenville roughed him up a little bit – and in four end-of-season starts Francisco Jimenez held his own, including a seven-inning, two-hit whitewashing of Hickory August 31. In his four Delmarva appearances Jimenez pitched 22 innings, allowing just 16 hits and 7 walks for a stellar 1.05 WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched.) Francisco won both of his decisions, pitching to a 2.45 ERA. This belied his stats at Aberdeen, where Jimenez was promoted despite a 2-5 record and 4.72 ERA in 40 innings.
Since coming stateside in 2014 (Jimenez began his minor league career in 2012 in the Dominican Summer League and stayed there for 2013) the 21-year-old Dominican native has had some issue with allowing hits, allowing over a hit per inning on average in two seasons beginning with the Gulf Coast League Orioles in 2014 and moving to both Aberdeen and Delmarva last season. Balancing that out is a stinginess with walks, suggesting Francisco is comfortable pitching to contact; he has a good ratio of ground outs to air outs. Pitchers have made fine careers out of enticing weak contact, though.
So 2016 will be a year where we find out if Jimenez has the stamina and ability to last a full season, since he has never pitched above the short-season level aside from his four August starts here. Francisco may also have to adapt to a slightly different role as he’s not currently penciled into the five-man starting rotation – it’s more likely he will be the first guy up and come on in the middle innings to relieve the starter. If he succeeds there, odds are he will make it back into the rotation.
And so begins another Shorebird of the Week season, even if the status of the onfield season opener is in peril (as I write this Wednesday night there is a 100% chance of rain in Hagerstown tomorrow.) We’ll see what this eleventh and final round of Shorebird honorees bring to the Delmarva table.
There are a handful of diehards who read my site for Shorebird of the Week and one of them asked if I was going to once again take my stab at predicting the 25-man Delmarva Shorebird roster this year as I have the last couple. Alas, the answer is no.
That request and the lack of time and effort I could spare to put into that research is the driver behind an announcement I’m here to make: the 2016 season will be the retirement tour for the Shorebird of the Week. After 11 seasons, circumstances that have already changed are going to lead to more changes which bring me to the point where I don’t think I can do the concept justice anymore. Simply put, it’s an easier job to do when you’re at 40 to 50 games a season and roll in about 6:20 so you have good light for photos than it is to be at 15 to 20 games and show up right at 7:00 as it’s getting dark. It’s not the statistics that are the issue, but the photos and the player availability as the pitchers in the starting rotation only appear every fifth game. In recent years pitchers have come and gone before I ever saw them in a game, and that is a problem when you have standards such as I do. I was dissatisfied with my 2015 product, but the prospects for improvement are becoming more and more limited.
Now I have asked before for player photos, but my appeal fell on deaf ears. This has always been both a DIY project and a labor of love, anyway, so to that end the SotW Tracker and SotW Hall of Fame will continue on as long as the players remain active. But this will be my last season having the Shorebird of the Week as a feature.
I know I’m going to miss doing it, which is why I didn’t just not begin the SotW season come April 7. Hopefully the weather will hold out and I can get some photos of the 2016 Shorebirds at next week’s Salisbury University exhibition game; otherwise I will see what holdovers from 2015 return to the team and hope I have photos of them someplace.
But the time is right to move on, so it appears that I will be closing the curtain on Shorebird of the Week come Thursday, September 1. At that point, there will be close to 200 players with the distinction, of which 23 have made the major leagues so far. I’ll still have my camera when I go to the games, but it’s time for me to be less of a photographer and more of a spectator.
Class envy comes once again to the sports world.
I was perusing my browser when I came upon an article from AP writer Paul Newberry, one which whines about baseball sending the wrong message to its fans. This is a good example of its tone:
Given that many struggling Americans haven’t had a raise in years, their frustration epitomized by a tumultuous presidential race, perhaps it wasn’t the best time for (MLB player Yoenis) Cespedes to arrive at New York Mets camp in a different ride six days in a row.
The flashy outfielder pulled up in a Ford F-250, Lamborghini Aventador, Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione, Jeep Wrangler and a pair of Polaris Slingshot three-wheel motorcycles — all of them customized to the tune of about $80,000. Of course, that’s a pittance compared to the cost of the actual vehicles, with the Lamborghini alone going for more than $300,000.
Cespedes signed a three-year deal over the winter for $75 million, so he has the coin to spend on these cars. Yes, to most it would seem excessive to have so many cars but then how many people make $25 million a year to play a game? This is nothing new: back in the early days of the Depression, Babe Ruth held out for a contract that exceeded the amount President Hoover was paid at the time. His reasoning? “I had a better year than he did.”
The point is that these athletes are participating in a relatively free market, so the owners of the teams are willing to pay $25 million a year or more to the most elite players, those who have played long enough to earn the right to be free agents. (By comparison, the Orioles’ Manny Machado had an outstanding season last year for the bargain basement price of $548,ooo. This season he will make a cool $5 million, and that will likely increase again next year when he becomes arbitration-eligible. Machado can become a free agent after the 2019 season.)
Perhaps it’s a function of having the most games in a season (and most opportunities to create revenue) but baseball is still a cheap ticket in comparison to other sports. The average ticket price for MLB runs about $30, but one can go to anywhere between 4 and 14 MLB games for the price of one average NFL ticket.
Nor does this consider the plethora of minor league teams out there, where the average ticket price may be less than $10 a pop. That’s still more than you’ll pay to see a AP writer bang out a column complaining about how much pro baseball players make.
You see, when people complain about how much money others earn – particularly when they do these comparisons of how much CEOs make compared to workers on the assembly line or checkout lane – they fail to comprehend the skill level and hard work required to be that successful. In the case of pro sports players, there is also the relatively brief length of career to consider. (Some players have accounted for this – for example, Chris Davis of the Orioles will have $42 million of the $161 million he signed for in a seven-season deal deferred over 15 years after the playing contract expires. Davis turns 30 later this month, so he will be paid under this contract until he is 51 years old.)
Similarly, there is only one CEO of a company and perhaps just a few thousand individuals who have the talent and experience to perform the tasks required. On the other hand, the job description of most of those on the low end of the pay scale is generally unskilled or semi-skilled. Granted, some of these tasks require a good face to the public but in general they aren’t adding a tremendous amount to the bottom line on an individual basis.
So pardon me if I think the writer is a whiner. If you don’t want to watch a baseball game, don’t go. But you’ll find me at my Shorebird games, which are still really affordable.
A somewhat new adage in major league baseball is that you buy the bats (through free agency) and grow the arms (in your minor league system.) In 2015, five former Shorebirds of the Week made it to The Show in the latter fashion. Just two of those five, though, did so as members of the Orioles.
Beginning on May 2nd, when Scott Copeland made his debut with Toronto, the summer brought several others in relatively rapid succession: Oliver Drake on May 23 for the Orioles, Eduardo Rodriguez on May 28 for the Boston Red Sox, and Mychal Givens on June 24 for the Orioles. Finally, after being traded there from Baltimore in a deadline deal, Zach Davies debuted September 2 for the Milwaukee Brewers, who acquired him in exchange for outfielder Gerardo Parra.
Their paths to the big leagues were as different as their debuts.
Scott Copeland was signed off the street by Toronto in 2012 after the Orioles released him at mid-season from Frederick. While it’s likely they saw him as organizational depth. Copeland continued to slowly climb the ladder all the way to the top at the ripe old age of 27. Perhaps it was a reward for loyalty since Copeland was granted free agency twice by Toronto after the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
Oliver Drake was also a late bloomer, being picked as a Shorebird of the Week way back in 2009 and debuting at the age of 28. After losing a season due to injury, Drake looked like a guy who was stuck at Bowie until they tried him as a closer in 2013. He then became a dominant ninth-inning guy for Bowie in 2014 and Norfolk this year, often making the shuttle between Norfolk and Baltimore.
Eduardo Rodriguez was the price Baltimore paid in July 2014 to rent Andrew Miller for a couple months. Miller moved on to the Yankees for 2015, but Rodriguez stayed with the Red Sox the rest of the way after his promotion. How many rookies won 10 games in barely half a season with a last-place club? I daresay not many. The Orioles might be kicking themselves for awhile about that deal.
It’s well-known that Mychal Givens began his career as a shortstop, and in his first go-rounds with Delmarva we found out he was unremarkable at the plate. The potential was seen the fourth season he appeared here, which was Mychal’s first as a pitcher in 2013. Once he worked off the rust and learned to take advantage of his rather unique delivery, Givens moved up the system quickly as a relief pitcher.
Finally, depending on what happens with Parra, Baltimore also may regret trading away Zach Davies, who looked pretty sharp in a half-dozen September starts – particularly the last two. Granted, this was with a team playing out the string in a division where they were one of the two punching bags (of the five teams Zach faced, Pittsburgh gave him by far the most trouble) but he held his own against the Cubs and beat up on the bad teams.
Those are the five going in this year, so who are good bets for 2016?
Out of the recent Shorebird crop, perhaps the best bets at an Orioles debut are a few players who were selected in 2014: Jon Keller, Trey Mancini, and Chance Sisco. Of these three, Mancini seems by far the surest selection. Another former SotW, Parker Bridwell, is now on the 40-man roster.
But there are a handful of players who now toil elsewhere who could make it to the top of the heap next year. St. Louis has onetime catching prospect Mike Ohlman, Pittsburgh has pitcher Steven Brault (also a 2014 pick), and Milwaukee picked up pitcher and Maryland native Josh Hader in a trade with Houston at the deadline. Nicky Delmonico of the Chicago White Sox and Gabriel Lino of the Phillies have longer odds, as does veteran minor leaguer Ty Kelly.
They may be joining a longer list of players, which is closing in on the size of a big league roster. Because of that, it’s going to take a few extra days to make needed changes and pare down a Hall of Fame page that’s otherwise over 10,000 words. As I lean on Baseball-Reference heavily to compile the information, it’s going to become my go-to page for statistics. Just like the real Hall of Fame, I think compiling a brief summary of the player’s career may be a better way to go, but it will take a few days to get there.
So that’s a wrap of this year’s honorees. It’s the biggest class since 2011, but the first class where more players made debuts with other teams than with Baltimore. Given Dan Duquette’s lack of fear of trading prospects at the deadline having entrants debut with other teams may become the norm.
On a night with a reasonable chance of precipitation, the final home game of the season, the 2015 Delmarva Shorebirds completed a five-game sweep of the first-half division champion Hickory Crawdads. They also managed to finally crawl over the 200,000 mark in season attendance, with an all-time franchise low of 203,520 making it out to Perdue Stadium. If the original forecast had held, the team would have suffered its first sub-200,000 season.
While the statistic seems bleak, though, the truth comes out on further study. On a per-game basis, the attendance was remarkably stable between 2014 and 2015: just three fewer per game. The average of 3,230 tracks with recent performance where the team has existed in that attendance range for a decade or more.
What was lacking this year, however, was home dates. While every team in the South Atlantic League is assigned 70 home dates and 70 road games scattered throughout the year, Mother Nature can be downright uncooperative at times. The average SAL team lost four dates due to rain this year, but Delmarva had the fewest openings with 63. Just getting to league average and assuming normal attendance at each game would have made the difference between sweating out 200,000 fans or a modest uptick in attendance from last season.
One culprit for this issue is the very field the team plays on. Imagine this scenario: a weekend full of promotions is on tap, but the area gets a gullywasher Friday afternoon and another significant drenching Saturday morning. Not a drop falls during the time the games are scheduled, but two dates are lost due to “wet grounds.” That situation seems to play out in Delmarva almost every year with the field’s poor drainage and this year we indeed lost a couple games like that. This has been a sore spot for years: I love going to the games, the food is pretty good (I liked the buffalo chicken brat I finally tried at the last game, for example) and I didn’t mind the price increase for a Thirsty Thursday beer because it was larger. But if I show up on a clear evening and the game is called because we had a cloudburst earlier that day, I’m not a happy camper.
For a number of years I have had a fairly consistent list of “pans.” But about a month ago I stumbled onto an article in Ballpark Digest by Zach Spedden that detailed some very exciting changes coming to Arthur W. Perdue Stadium.
The first phase involves redoing the drainage for the entire field, literally stripping it to bare earth and starting over. It got underway just days after the final out was recorded.
(Photo credit: Delmarva Shorebirds)
Presumably next season the field will be better able to handle an inch or two of rain in an afternoon thunderstorm, draining it away in time for the game.
But I can’t wait to see the changes slated for the 2016 offseason – which hopefully gets a late start.
Between the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the Shorebirds will make several improvements to the ballpark. In what (Shorebird General Manager Chris) Bitters called a “key piece” to the renovation, a new boardwalk-themed wraparound concourse will surround the field. New tiers will be added to the current group area down the right-field line, while the left-field side will see an increase in group and standing room options as well as slope adjustments to the current berm seating. Also in the works is a plan to remove the current metal bench-styled seating in the second level in favor of fold-down stadium seats.
The goal in making these adjustments to the berm, group, and standing areas is to give fans who prefer to wander during their visits more options, all the while making the stadium feel less congested on crowded nights. “That’s going to be a huge hit, particularly on our busier nights,” said Bitters. “When we are full now, people are hanging out on the concourse,” reflecting a demand for more comfortable standing room.
One of the most crucial aspects of this phase of the renovation will be a brand new videoboard. Perdue Stadium has used the same videoboard since opening in 1996, which, according to Bitters, limits what the Shorebirds can do from a promotional standpoint. With a more modern board, he said that fans can expect better animations, more interactive promotions, and instant replays as part of a more modern experience. “For our fans, having seen those at Camden Yards and other ballparks, they kind of have come to expect that stuff.”
Now THAT will be worth following on Facebook. Its net effect may be similar to FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, which also has a 360 degree concourse. If it’s made wide enough, there could be cafe-style seating out there, giving casual fans the option to scope out the action behind the center fielder while enjoying a bite to eat and adult beverage.
And maybe – just maybe – we can get back to what Thirsty Thursdays once were, with the game followed by an hourlong concert by a local/regional band. Those were great!
Naturally, all this would come at a price. I’m not privy to any inside information, but the question to me is not if but when ticket prices and parking fees go up. The limited-government conservative in me is already a little perturbed that the taxpayer piggy bank was raided to pay for this – hopefully we get the extra tax revenue from increased attendance and interest to make it a zero-sum game. $4 million may not seem like a lot, but if ticket prices went up $1 it would take well over a decade to pay for itself through that avenue, not counting interest. It seems to me, though, that the county was looking for more of a buy-in from 7th Inning Stretch LLC, the team’s owner. (Like a number of other facilities, a privately-owned team plays in a publicly-owned stadium. Wicomico County owns Perdue Stadium.)
So the pieces are being put into place: a new long-term agreement between the team and county, improvements to Perdue Stadium to satisfy both the Orioles and the fans, and a likely continuation of their longstanding player development contract when it comes up for renewal next season.
Soon the only thing I might be able to pan would be the Orioles’ scouting staff. With the proposed facility improvements, all that’s missing is another trophy to go with the two gathering dust after 15 and 18 years, respectively. Playoff baseball has been AWOL from Perdue since 2005, and that’s way too long.