Although he retired as a player last October, Cal Ripken isn’t completely severing his ties with the Baltimore Orioles. The former Iron Man will maintain his relationship with the Orioles from a place he hasn’t been in 21 years the minor leagues.
Ripken Baseball, an organization headed by Ripken, announced yesterday that it has purchased the Utica (N.Y.) Blue Sox of the New York-Penn League and will move the franchise to Aberdeen, Md., where it will begin playing this summer as the Orioles’ new short-season Class A affiliate.
The Aberdeen team will play a 76-game schedule beginning in June at soon to be completed Ripken Stadium, a 6,000-seat ballpark being built along with several youth facilities by Ripken in his hometown.
“We are very excited to be able to bring professional baseball to the city of Aberdeen,” Ripken said. “The fact that the Orioles are making it one of their affiliates means a great deal to me personally.”
The deal to purchase the Utica franchise, which had been affiliated with the Florida Marlins, had been in the works for several months and involved a few sticky points, such as territorial rights with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ affiliate in Wilmington, Del. The Aberdeen and Wilmington franchises solved the problem by agreeing to a partnership that may involve combined ticket packages and appearances by Ripken.
The Orioles now have four affiliates within Maryland: Aberdeen, Class AA Bowie, high Class A Frederick and low Class A Delmarva in Salisbury.
“Its proximity to Camden Yards further enhances our ability to continue the improvement of our instructional programs and the teaching of baseball fundamentals to develop a championship team here in Baltimore,” Orioles vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift said. “And Cal Ripken’s ownership ensures that it will be a first-class facility.”
As for the new team’s major league affiliation, other organizations were considered, but Ripken had hoped all along to align the club with the team that his family has been associated for nearly 50 years. Orioles owner Peter Angelos concurred.
“The Orioles have been great about this,” said John Maroon, spokesman for Ripken Baseball. “Mr. Angelos from Day 1 agreed that this should be an Orioles affiliate.”
The Orioles now join the Atlanta Braves as the only major league teams with seven minor league affiliates, though the Orioles’ agreement with Class AAA Rochester expires after this season and there has been speculation that ties will be severed. But don’t look for the Aberdeen team or Ripken to be involved in any inner-organization class changes.
“We’re really happy with the short-season A-ball,” Maroon said.
Ripken Baseball is also hoping that Aberdeen will be chosen from among five finalists as the new home of USA Baseball, which will relocate its headquarters from Tucson, Ariz., at the end of the year.