By Ashleigh Covington
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2006 – Decked out in special camouflage jerseys, a Maryland baseball team tonight will show their support for men and women in uniform. The Aberdeen IronBirds, the single-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, will host a Military Appreciation Night at Ripken Stadium, in Aberdeen, Md.
"This is our first annual Military Appreciation Night, and this is something we want to continue to support the troops and thank them from the Aberdeen IronBirds and Cal Ripken Stadium," Lev Shellenberger, director of ticket sales for Ripken Stadium, said. Aberdeen is home to the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Edgewood Army Arsenal. Because of Aberdeen's strong military connection, Shellenberger and other Ripken Stadium personnel wanted to thank military members for their service.
"This year we were talking to the 22nd Chemical Battalion over at Edgewood Arsenal and the gentleman that talked to us really wanted to get the guys over here to come out for a night," Shellenberger said. "He asked us if we did any sort of military appreciation night, and we let him know that we had never done anything in the past, but it was something we always wanted to do. We definitely see value in giving back to the military community."
In tonight's game against the Hudson Valley Renegades, the IronBirds will raffle off their autographed jerseys at the end of the night. All proceeds will go to "Our Military Kids Inc." Our Military Kids provides support and financial aid to children of deployed and severely injured reserve and National Guard personnel.
"We looked at a couple of different charities and figured the kids affected by the overseas war in Iraq ... could really use the money," Shellenberger said. "Cal and Bill Ripken, ... a lot of the reason they built this baseball stadium in Aberdeen was for the kids, and we felt that charity (was) beneficial to kids and something they really wanted to do." Along with the raffle, other attractions throughout the night will include a performance of the national anthem by the 389th Army Band, military vehicles from the Blue and Gray Military Vehicle Trust Will, and relay races and on-field promotions between each inning to get military members and their families involved.
"Since we're a minor league stadium, we get to do a lot of fun things in order for the crowd to participate," Shellenberger said. The IronBirds have had sold-out seasons since their 2002 debut, and team officials want to promote troop support among their fans and give military families the opportunity to enjoy a night in their honor.
"Without our troops, there would be no land of the free.... They're doing something for us, and we feel we should do whatever we can to support them. This is one way we wanted to do so," Shellenberger said. "They are letting us live the free life. ... They're allowing us this benefit."
By Ashleigh Covington