Yesterday, I went to see Southern Maryland's independent Atlantic League team, the Blue Crabs, take on the Charleston Dirty Birds. After a manageable 1 hour and 20 minutes from my driveway in Catonsville, I pulled into the parking lot in Waldorf. Since a portion of that is the DC beltway, I expect it would be different on a weeknight. In the Baltimore area, we're lucky to have 3 Atlantic League teams (including the York Revolution and Lancaster Barnstormers) within this driving radius.
Immediately, I was greeted by the benefits you only find in the minors. An ocean of free parking. Walkup access to pay just 15 bucks for great seats, which includes every single one in the intimate little Regency Furniture Stadium. An old-school manual scoreboard. If you're like me and hate looking through the screen, Regency ends the netting at the front edge of the dugouts. Nice, clean, unimpeded danger - the way baseball should be. The park has a small, well-maintained two-storey grandstand. Inside, they have columns painted to commemorate notable MLB players who came through, like Mat Latos and Chien-Ming Wang.
I don't think I have ever seen a more kid-friendly baseball stadium. It may not have the intensity of the carnival midway behind centerfield in York, but it is set up for play. A large playground area down the right field line adjoins a grass berm for families to spread out. Then the berm slopes down behind the centerfield fence to form basketball courts and a pool where you can race motorized rafts. For the grown-ups, they have a large wooden patio behind leftfield with table seating. You can bring out beverages from the enclosed Legends Club down the third base line.
A great appeal of independent ball is a chance to play "who's still kicking around?" The answer came immediately, as Charleston's number 2 hitter was our old friend from the rebuild years, Dwight Smith Jr. Dwight was wearing bright orange kicks, which I like to think was a call out to Orioles fans about the old days. He still looked good, walking twice and smoking an RBI single. The Dirty Birds also field Marlin-for-a-minute Yefri Perez and former Indian Bobby Bradley.
Smith lines one just outside the LF foul pole.
On the Blue Crabs side, their player-hitting coach is another Marlin short timer, Braxton Lee. He provided a good model for his students, lining a no-doubter onto the party patio. In the bullpen, they also have Isaac Matson, 4-game 2021 Oriole we got in the Dylan Bundy trade. He came in and stopped the bleeding after a 5 run 7th, with a completely dominant 3 fastball strikeout. Mattson then struck out 2 more in the 8th.
Independent league play swings to extremes. Hitting wise it is a feast or famine league, with hitters carrying averages below .180 or exceeding .325. While the starters were in, it was a well-played, AA-worthy game - Blue Crabs leading 4-2 after 6 innings. Once you get in the bullpens, things get wild. Charleston stormed back to take a 7-4 lead. Crabs got two right back, then scored 5 more in the ninth to win 11-7. Messy, but fun. You would expect them to win, being Division leaders against a 1 - 5 4th place opponent.
For a change of pace, a trip to see the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs is worth it for any baseball fan, especially for fan families. If you are weirdo like me who collects visits to different obscure leagues and stadiums like a birdwatcher chasing entries on his life list, you'll probably go regardless but you will also have a good time.