Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium
Serving as a Family-Friendly gathering place for the community
Providing the perfect experience for the talents of tomorrow
Cal Ripken Jr. was an All-Star baseball player who played his entire 21-year, major league career for the Baltimore Orioles. He was nicknamed the “Iron Man,” for holding the record for consecutive games played (2,632), having surpassed Yankee Slugger Lou Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 that had stood for 56 years and that many deemed unbreakable.
Retired since 2001, the Hall of Fame shortstop has authored books, established charities, owned several minor league baseball teams, and founded the Ripken Experience, a group of sports complexes that allows young athletes to play their favorite sport in replicas of some of the most notable major league ballparks in America while competing in tournaments and learning how to improve their game.
Ripken Experience complexes are located in Elizabethtown, KY, Myrtle Beach SC, Cooperstown, NY, Cedar Point, OH, Pigeon Forge, TN, and the flagship destination in Aberdeen, MD, Cal’s hometown. Ripken Experience Aberdeen contains 9 fields, one of which is a two-thirds replica of Oriole Park at Camden Yards with a 2,500 seating capacity, 15 batting cages, 16 bull-pens, and 1 warm-up area.
In 2002, Ripken purchased the Utica Blue Sox, renamed the team the IronBirds, and moved them to the newly-opened Ripken Stadium, which sits right next door to the Ripken Experience in Aberdeen. The Ironbirds are a Class High-A affiliate of the Orioles and play a 132-game season in the 12-member South Atlantic League. In 2015, Leidos, an American defense, aviation, information technology, and biomedical research company, secured the naming rights for the 6,300-seat Ripken Stadium, which then became known as Leidos Field.
A successful collaboration
Jack Gumbert is a Leidos Vice President whose expertise is program oversight for some of the company’s Department of Defense contracts. He and several hundred of his Leidos colleagues work at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), one of the country’s pre-eminent military research, development, and testing institutions.
He explains how the firm decided to become part of the Ripken baseball universe.
“Back in 2013, our company, Leidos, was originally known as SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). The decision was made to sell off a part of the company and allow it to keep the SAIC name, and then rebrand the major part of the company as Leidos. Leidos is the root word of kaleidoscope, which in Latin means ‘to collaborate.’ This rebranding process took a lot of thought. And one of the things we thought would make sense would be to sponsor a field. We were in love with this community, and it’s very important for Leidos, as an organization, to be a part of the fabric of the community, to participate and collaborate.”
For Leidos, and Ripken Stadium, the synergistic collaboration has been a huge success.
“We’re appreciative of them as our partner,” says Jack Graham, General Manager of the IronBirds. “And that’s because we do so much more than just baseball. In addition to our 66 professional baseball games, we have community events, festivals, weddings, business meetings, and charity fundraisers.”
Gumbert adds, “We have a suite above third base, which comes as part of our sponsorship where we might host a church group, or a community group like the YMCA, or a couple of military charities, such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Gold Star Mothers. We also use the suite and the stadium for employee recognition events. And lastly, we do some business development up there. We might invite five or six local companies to come and enjoy the time and network there at the suite.”
Baseball comes first
All that being said, the main focus at Leidos Field is still baseball, which, according to Graham, has experienced a resurgence since the pandemic. “The IronBirds have been lucky,” he states.
“We’re among a small group of teams that were moved from the short-season NY/Penn league, meaning we were playing about 40 games a year starting in June, to Advanced-A, or High-A baseball, meaning we’re playing 75% more games, which is a lot more people through the gates.”
“We’re experiencing an increase in attendance and an increase in attention, because people are seeing that the quality of baseball that we’re playing at Ripken Stadium is much higher. People are coming out and there are more eyeballs on Leidos Field, more eyeballs on the IronBirds, and more benefit to the community here in Aberdeen.”
“It’s an exciting time to be in baseball,” Graham continues. “And part of that is because new rules are making the game more exciting – you’ve got the pitch clock, you’ve got the shift restrictions, and you’ve got larger bases and shorter base paths. I love it when the IronBirds win, but ultimately, we’re in the business of baseball. We win when lots of people come to the game and have a great time at our facility.”
The fan experience
Making sure that the fans have a great time is the responsibility of Skye Truss, Director of Ballpark Experience. “The biggest part of my job is overseeing the game-based staff and the onsite contractors: janitorial, security, emergency medical services, and APB officers so that fans have a clean, safe, fun experience at the ballpark,” she states.
The stadium hires about 80 seasonal staff for the Ironbirds home games. Known as “fan hosts,” they get briefed before each evening game when they’re apprised of the night’s theme, the number of fans expected, the number and types of groups coming, and if there are any special gate giveaways or events to celebrate.
“As soon as we adjourn from the meeting, all of our fan hosts are assigned to specific areas to wipe down all of our surface areas, making sure that all of our general areas are clean – seating, the Kids Zone, our condiments station – making sure there’s no reason for anyone to come to ticket services saying ‘this wasn’t clean.’ As soon as they’re done doing that, they head to their assigned stations. Then, throughout the evening, they relieve each other for their breaks, and by the end of the night, they’re saying goodbye to our fans, and then we send them on their way.”
Truss believes that fun and safety go hand-in-hand. “My head is on a swivel at all times during game day,” she reports. “Anything can happen, so I need to make sure our staff always knows our operating procedures, our bat-check policies, our fan code of conduct, what concession stands might be open that night, what time the Kids Zone will be open; making sure that their heads are also on swivel. For the fans to have fun, the staff behind the scenes needs to be looking out for them.”
Partners and suppliers
In addition to its seasonal staff, the stadium also relies on a broad network of local contractors and suppliers to make sure that it has the products and services it needs to operate smoothly and safely. “Our main local supplier is API Source,” says Truss. It’s a creative brand merchandising agency, family-owned and operated since 1965.
“They have done an amazing job with us these past few years. Their turnaround times are amazing. When sponsors want to do gate giveaways, we point them in the direction of API to get them here quickly. We do all of our season seat member gifts with them; they’re able to present quality products every time. There is never a ‘no, we can’t do this.’ They’ve been a great partner to work with.”
This past season, the stadium has also worked with PuppieLove, a local clothing company that donates 10% of its net profits to animal shelters and rescue groups. The company has made new logos for IronBirds T-shirts and accessories.
“We’re appreciative of our community and the vendors who get us our things — API Source, Procare, our ambulance company, Harford Bank who we work with, as well as the APG Federal Credit Union,” Graham adds. “We’ve worked with Rawlings for several years now and we appreciate their collaboration. So, there’s a ton of different people we work with and our ballpark wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Graham says he is most appreciative, though, of the Baltimore Orioles, the IronBirds major league affiliate, which provides all of its players, coaches, and team staff. “They’ve been so tremendous in the transition from short season to full season and through the pandemic,” he notes.
“People have to decide, sometimes, if they want to go to Camden Yards and see a major league baseball game, or if they want to come to Leidos Field and see minor league baseball in their community. But it never feels like we’re competing; it never feels like it’s a choice between one or the other. Ultimately, we’re all on the same team.”
Going forward, Graham says that he wants the stadium to continue to provide people a venue for sports entertainment as well as a community gathering place.
“As general manager, I hope that whether it’s a baseball game, or a Halloween festival, or a job fair, or a wedding, people think of our facility as something open to the community and a resource for the neighborhood.” Truss wants to keep things affordable and make sure that fans “go home with some great merchandise.”
Gumbert sums up the benefit to the main sponsor Leidos, by saying that “Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium is all about family-friendly fun. It’s a safe space where people can get together and not have to worry about the kids, or parking because it’s easy in and easy out,” he shares.
“It’s a place where we can bring the APG community, the city of Aberdeen, and local organizations together in a common place for events. It allows us to bring people together and be part of the community. And we want to continue to do that.”
AT A GLANCE
Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium
WHAT: A minor league baseball stadium, home of the IronBirds
WHERE: Aberdeen, Maryland