May 19—The Aberdeen IronBirds opened their 2021 home schedule Tuesday night at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium.
This opening night was unlike any in the past. No ceremony to get the home season started, and nor was there any in-game entertainment other than the game itself. The game was good enough for an 5-3 IronBirds win over the Blue Rocks of Wilmington in a High-A East Minor League Baseball game.
There was a moment of silence for the late Vi Ripken and a short video tribute. There is a violet chair, Vi's chair, on the second concourse, where Vi could be seen each and every game.
This first series has capacity restrictions due to COVID, but the IronBirds, in accordance with Gov. Hogan's announcement Friday and with the blessing of Major League Baseball and Harford County, masks and face covering are no longer required inside the stadium for any IronBirds games or any other events held there.
At Tuesday's opener, fans not wearing masks to those who were was probably 90 percent not wearing, although a number of IronBirds staff were wearing masks.
"It's a personal preference for everybody, we don't ask, we just want everybody to feel comfortable and that is something that applies to fans as well," IronBirds General Manager Jack Graham said. "If you would feel more comfortable wearing a mask, we encourage it, that's fine."
Attendance was listed at 1,222 with current capacity allowing around 1,500 per game. "We were just under 30 percent I believe, we were keeping everyone in their socially distanced pods for this first home stand," Graham said. "That's what we promised everybody, we want to make sure everybody came back safely and we're looking forward to expanding soon."
Local fan Sandy Price was in attendance and emphatically ready for baseball. "I'm so excited to be back out here and watching the IronBirds, Price said. "I live across the street and I've been watching them tear this field up and I wanted to see it in person and I'm here."
As for the freedom to not wearing a mask, Price said, "I'm so excited. I'm so sick of it and I just bought a whole bunch of them."
As for the game, Aberdeen had five batters with two hits each and another great outing from starting pitcher Kyle Brnovich.
Brnovich tossed five innings to improve to 2-0. He allowed two hits, a walk and one run, while striking out six.
His teammates scored four runs to aid his cause and the "Birds started early.
Shayne Fontana reached with a leadoff infield single. Joey Ortiz singled Fontana to third and Kyle Stowers also singled to drive in Fontana.
Aberdeen added a run in the third. With one out, Johnny Rizer reached on an infield single and he stole second base. Stowers, with two away, singled in Rizer to make it 2-0.
Wilmington cut the lead in half in the fifth. Cade Canning doubled for the Blue Rocks with one out and with two gone, Jake Alu also doubled to get Wilmington on the scoreboard.
Aberdeen answered in the bottom of the fifth with two more runs. Fontana and Rizer hit consecutive one-out singles and Ortiz (2-4) followed with a bouncing RBI double inside the left field line.
Stowers, who finished 2-2, added his third RBI with a sacrifice fly to left field.
Leading 4-1, Aberdeen went to reliever Connor Gillispie, who was solid. Gillispie allowed two hits and he struck out two over three scoreless innings.
The IronBirds added a fifth run in the eighth. Adam Hall added his second hit leading off the inning.
Zach Watson was hit by pitch, but not before Hall stole second base. Fontana (2-5) flew out to deep left field and Hall alertly moved to third with one out.
Rizer (2-5) then grounded into a potential inning-ending double play, but he beat the throw to first and Hall scored on the play.
Kade Strowd came on to pitch the final inning, but after getting the first two batters out, he ran into trouble. Israel Pineda and Omar Meregildo hit back-to-back home runs on two-strike pitches.
Strowd then walked the next batter and Morgan McSweeney was summoned from the bullpen. McSweeney hit two straight batters to load the bases, but he got the next batter to ground out to second to end the game.
Aberdeen improves to 9-4 on the season and 6-1 against the Blue Rocks. Game two is on tap for Wednesday night at 7:05 p.m.