Cal Ripken Experience Aberdeen
We just got back from an amazing (and tiring!) weekend of 10u and 13u baseball at the Cal Ripken Experience – Aberdeen, Maryland. For both my 13u and 10u player, the Ripken Golden Spikes tournament was the final Fall Ball tournament for the Fall 2021 Baseball Season, and was a great way to end the 2021 season. Here are some travel tips if your child’s team will be traveling to the Ripken Experience Aberdeen for a Ripken tournament.
Hotels at the Cal Ripken Experience Aberdeen
There are two hotels located onsite at the Ripken Experience Aberdeen, the Courtyard Marriot Aberdeen at Ripken Stadium and the Residence Inn Aberdeen at Ripken Stadium. One cool feature of the hotels, which are attached in the middle, is that the exterior was designed to look just like the B&O Warehouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
This was our second time staying at the Courtyard Marriot Aberdeen for a Ripken tournament (the last time being two years ago, pre-pandemic). For tournament families, you cannot beat the convenience of staying onsite. We were lucky enough to have a room facing the main stadium (Cal, Sr.’s Yard, the replica field of Oriole Park at Camden Yards) at the Ripken Experience, so we could watch the early Saturday and Sunday morning games. Tip: if you think your team will be playing at a Ripken tournament anytime in the near future, it’s best to book a room really early if it’s important to you to stay onsite. We booked our rooms for the October tournament back in July.
The hotel offers a pool, onsite fitness center, and breakfast is included.
The Ripken Experience Facility
Like I said, this was our second experience at Ripken Aberdeen. Being from the Northeast, it’s a convenient location that anyone who’s ever traveled on I-95 between Baltimore and Philadelphia will immediately recognize – you can actually see the stadium lights from I-95 and from the Chesapeake Bay. The facility is clean and beautiful, with ample parking. It’s a great way to spend a beautiful fall weekend. Our kids and their friends roamed freely throughout the facility during their free time, watching other teams play.
Here are some general tips and observations for your visit to the facility.
Parking: There is plenty of onsite parking, either directly next to the facility, or across the street at Ripken Stadium. Families with a lot of gear will want to bring wagons. While the facility is well paved and walkable, there can be quite a long trek to some of the back fields.
Concessions: There is one main Concession stand at the facility, though it had to close early because of staffing. There are tents and picnic pavilions throughout the facility with picnic tables.
Photos: There will be photographer at each of the games, taking action photos of the game as well as team photos. A couple days after the tournament ends, you can go on the Major League Photos website and order photos directly from the website.
Merchandise: There is a merchandise store next to the Concession stand at Cal Sr.’s field where you can purchase tournament and Ripken Experience t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants and more.
Families with young children: For kids who are tired of watching their big brother’s game, there is a playground right next to Cal Sr’s field. The area around the fields is paved and walk able, so there is plenty of rooms for strollers.
Seating: Seating was limited or non-existent at fields other than Cal. Sr’s field and the Ripken Stadium. Bring your own chair or waterproof blanker for seating unless you want to stand. You should also bring an umbrella for rain and sun protection. Coolers are permitted.
Games and Tournaments
Games run on a strict two hour time limit, so as not to throw off the start time of the next game.
If your team is lucky enough to play on Cal Sr.’s field or the Ripken Stadium (MInor Leage Stadium of the Aberdeen Iron Birds) there is no need to bring chairs. Pretty much all other fields you should bring your own chair unless you want to stand or sit on the grass.
The Ripken Experience provides an announcer for each game, who announces batters and play a pre-determined set list of ‘walk up music’.
13u tournament games are played on a limited set of fields due to the field size. Old Yankee Stadium, located within the Ripken Experience, and Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, Minor League stadium for the Aberdeen Ironbirds, are the only two fields that can accomodate 13u. The stadium is located directly next to the Cal Ripken Experience, making this a convenient (and honestly really cool) field for your older player.
At the end of each game, each head coach awards a ‘Player of the Game’ pin to one ballplayer from their team.
Rain impacted schedules both of the times we were at the Ripken Experience. Weather is obviously outside the control of the facility, and they did their best to shuffle around schedules once the weather finally cleared up.
Where to Eat in Aberdeen
Aberdeen isn’t a small town, and there is a large selection of chain restaurants within a 10 minute drive of the Cal Ripken Experience. Since we’ve only been there for weekend tournaments, we didn’t get the chance to head out to many restaurants (especially this past weekend, with two kids playing two games each on Saturday).
Our restaurant choices were based purely on convenience to the Ripken Experience as well as their ability and willingness to handle large groups. Because we were there for weekend-only tournaments, there wasn’t a huge amount of downtime.
Applebees was able to accommodate a large group of team members and their families, and the menu appeals to picky kids (and parents who may need a beer after a long day of baseball).
The Greene Turtle has standard bar food (think hamburgers, quesadillas, appetizers, etc.) and was able to handle a group of 20+ kids and parents.
Chap’s Famous Pit Beef is famous in Baltimore for their pit beef BBQ sandwiches, and has a convenient Aberdeen location minutes from the facility. The menu is large and varied, and there is plenty of indoor and outdoor seating for families. Recommended because the BBQ lived up to the hype.
La Tolteca is a nearby Mexican restaurant that also is able to accommodate groups. The food was good, but the margaritas are amazing. Again, a large menu with something that will appeal to even the pickiest kids.
Our Experience at Cal Ripken Aberdeen
Overall, the weekend was a fun one for the entire family. The tournament was well run, the facility was clean and well kept, and it ended up being the best way to close out my sons’ 2021 Baseball season.
In full transparency, we did have two totally different experiences at Cal Ripken Aberdeen. Our first experience was in fall 2019, shortly before the start of the pandemic. It’s difficult not to compare the two experiences. In 2019, the hotel lobby was constantly packed with families, there were games on Cal Sr.’s field starting on Friday night. The parking lot was full to capacity the entire weekend. There was constant activity all weekend, and I remember the hotel hallways, hotel lobby, hotel pool, and facility walkways constantly being packed with kids and families.
This past weekend (fall 2021) was different, and you can tell that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic. For starters, there seemed to be fewer teams participating in the tournament this year. There were no Friday night games, and the facility lights were actually turned out when the sun went down Friday.
The hotel admitted they were short staffed (like the rest of the US), and there were new measures put in place for safety. Housekeeping was limited due to safety concerns and staffing. The hotel discouraged families from hanging out in the lobby (which was difficult when the weather turned cold and rainy), and they encouraged masking even if vaccinated. The breakfast buffet we enjoyed in 2019 was replaced by ready to go ‘breakfast bags’ that could be picked up in the lobby from 8am to 10am every morning. The pool was open, but reservations had to be made in advance in order to limit the number of kids using the pool. There were security guards onsite to strictly enforce the 10pm quiet time, and they didn’t permit families to be outside in the outdoor area after 10pm.
I feel like the hotel and the Cal Ripken Experience Aberdeen really tried their best, despite being in the midst of a pandemic, to make the weekend fun and safe for all families, and we did have a great weekend. In the end, it’s really about the kids having fun playing the sport they love, and making memories with their teammates. They still had the time of their lives, and I don’t think they even noticed the differences between 2019 and 2021.
In conclusion, the Golden Spikes tournament at Cal Ripken Experience Aberdeen was a great way to end our 2021 Baseball Season. I recommend Cal Ripken Aberdeen as a great tournament experience for Northeast and Mid Atlantic baseball teams. Not only is it a beautiful, well maintained facility with well run tournaments, but it’s convenience for teams from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C. makes it’s an ideal weekend tournament destination for travel baseball teams.