Today, we are continuing our series with another Birdland check-in and we’re headed for Aberdeen. Since 2002, the IronBirds, owned by the Ripken family, were an Orioles affiliate in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League. In 2021 they will play for the first time as a full-season Single-A club. They are in the restructured High-A East.
Aberdeen will play 120 games, beginning with a pair of six-game series on the road before their home opener on May 18 versus Wilmington. The club will be managed by Kyle Moore. Today, we’re checking in with Aberdeen general manager Jack Graham, who played on the O’s farm in 2012-2013.
The move to full-season ball seems to have IronBirds fans excited.
“You know, our phones have rung more in the last two weeks than they did in the six months prior,” said Graham. “Which is fantastic. We are really excited, our fan base and community are excited. We are definitely gearing up to be back on pace with the baseball that our community knows and loves.”
So what might be different from playing as a short-season club?
“Well, aside from the obvious, which is more baseball games, I think the thing that fans will notice the most is the level of play increase,” Graham said. “It’s amazing how, you know, two years or three years of development of a player between rookie ball or short-season baseball and advanced A, not only do the players develop as they go up levels, but the concentration of talent, the kind of guys who are removed from the system between those levels, is going to be very apparent.
“I was talking to Cal and Bill when we discussing our move up to High-A baseball and we were talking about how very few home runs have been hit in Aberdeen in the course of our time as a team. And we were speculating if the park was too big or the ball doesn’t fly well or the wind blows in the wrong direction. But ultimately I think we landed on the fact that the guys who were in Aberdeen were between ‘18 and ‘21. They really didn’t have a handle on what it was like to be a pro player. And’ more than likely’ as we progress to a higher level, we will see a much more competitive level of baseball, a much higher talent level. It’s going to be really exciting.”
Like the other GMs I have talked to for this series, the IronBirds are excited to have some fans in the stands this season. The protocols in place now could be loosened a bit by opening day. That is the hope throughout baseball.
“Currently, all outdoor entertainment venues in the state of Maryland - whether it’s Ripken Stadium with 6,000 seats or Camden Yards, are limited to a 250 maximum human capacity,” Graham said. “And the reason I phrase it like that, is it’s not about spectators, it’s not about people in the stands, it’s about any person who is in the ballpark. So that’s players, coaches, umpires, concession workers, front office, spectators, police officers, EMTs, all the people in the ballpark have to add up to 250 or less. So we’re very hopeful that as things continue to improve from a health perspective and as people gain confidence going out to games and entertainment venues like ours, that that number will expand.”
Graham is part of a large baseball family. Some fans may be aware that his uncle, Brian, worked for many years for the Orioles and was director of player development when the club went to the playoffs three times between 2012-2016. But beyond that, he has a cousin, also with a first name of Jack, that also played on the O’s farm. And there is more. Both Jack Grahams were drafted by the Orioles in round 38 and both have moms named Karen. Jack Aaron Graham, the IronBirds GM, played in 32 games in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and at Aberdeen in 2012-2013. His cousin, Jack Gaston Graham, played in 23 games in 2015-2016 in the GCL and also at Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva.
Graham is pretty proud of his family name and their part in the baseball world.
“Absolutely. My uncle, Brian, and my dad, Aaron, they grew up in San Diego. During the 1970s, they played together at Granite Hills High School,” he said. “My dad ended up going to college for football while Brian and my other uncle, Lewie, went for baseball to UCLA and San Diego State, respectively. Brian was drafted in the fourth round and Lewie was drafted a little bit later by the Mets. They both got to play some minor league baseball, lay the groundwork for me and my cousin, Jack. Jack’s daughter, Kinsley, and his wife, Macee, live in Pittsburgh near Brian. Want to give them a shoutout. IronBirds fans may remember Jack being here as a player and as a coach. We’re really proud of the impact that we were able to make in baseball, but also the impact that baseball made on us. We’re servants of the game.”
In Aberdeen and all around baseball, the Ripken name is prominent. And recently a loss was felt throughout the game, but maybe especially in Harford County, when Vi Ripken died at 82. The mother of four, including Cal and Bill Ripken, grandmom to Ryan and widow of Cal Ripken Sr. She was a regular at Ripken Stadium.
“Mrs. Ripken owned the same six seats on the club level, where she could be seen pretty much enjoying every IronBirds game,” said Graham. “There were very few she couldn’t make. We’re going to miss her here. I think that Vi was an indicator to our fans and community that, no matter how famous the Ripken family name is, no matter how many fans come through Ripken Stadium, no matter how the baseball is played in the park, she was a reminder that this is a family-owned business. The family is the Ripken family, but we’re a local small business and she was here making sure it was run the way that her family, her husband, her boys, would expect it to be. We’re going to miss her and her presence at the ballpark. She was someone that everyone was drawn to.”
You can watch my interview with Graham at the end of this entry.
The games continue: The Orioles get back on the field today. They are 2-5-1 and have allowed 32 runs in losing three in a row. As of Monday the O’s team ERA of 7.28 ranked 29th among all major league teams in spring training games and they were 26th with a WHIP of 1.70.
Manager Brandon Hyde called for improved defense after Sunday’s 13-1 loss to the Pirates. So the O’s have a few things to clean up, including their pitchers throwing more strikes. They’ve walked 35 in 59 1/3 innings.
Right-hander Dean Kremer gets the start today in Fort Myers against Minnesota in a game that MLB Network will air in the Baltimore market with a 1:05 p.m. first pitch.
Kremer allowed three hits and three runs in his first start over 1 2/3 innings last Thursday against Boston.
Has the recent rough stretch for the team ruffled the feathers of the fans in Birdland or do fans understand this can happen during spring games?