a frigid winter night - the kind that can take your breath away - close
to 40 Southern Marylanders gather inside the locker room at the Regency
Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. It's not spring baseball season, but their
minds, nonethless, are on this beloved American sport.
The group, including Waldorf citizen and fan Ann Waters and her
75-year-old father Charlie, make up the newly formed Blue Crabs' Booster
Club. The club is evidence that the minor-league Southern Maryland Blue
Crabs team has made an indelible mark on the tri-county region, in what
could be seen as a public relations homerun. (A booster club membership
Owner of Fred's Liquors in Charlotte Hall, booster club president Bob
Sorrells is a diehard Blue Crabs fan who is helping lead the local
charge to support the team. Club plans include strengthening the team's
grassroots support and planning events - such as hosting a welcome
dinner for the 2009 players - as well as boosting the Blue Crabs brand
Major-league baseball may be about the wow of the best players and the
national buzz that can be rallied, but minor-league ball is all "about
affordable family entertainment," said Omar Roque, the Blue Crabs new
assistant general manager. For the 2009 Blue Crabs season, an adult
field box seat will run $13 a game, compared to a similar Orioles seat,
which runs between $50 and $80. Other benefits include free parking and
a shorter trek for tri-county residents who want to go to a professional
On opening night last year, 7,180 guests turned out to watch a cadre of
recruited pros who are not paid hefty salaries, but rather, "play for
the love of the game," said Wayne Evans, vice president of the booster
club and Blue Crabs clubhouse manager. The maximum a Blue Crabs player
can make is $3,000 a month, said coach Andy "Squeeze" Zwirchitz, a
down-to-earth, 32-year-old who is recovering from an injury and works
with team manager Butch Hobson on the players' side of the Blue Crabs
outfit. Zwirchitz has made a career pitching in the Alantic League, but
has also played for the farm systems of the New York Mets, Atlanta
Braves and Seattle Mariners.
Propelled by smart marketing, the movie "Bull Durham" and fan-friendly
players, minor-league baseball has built a national following in the
past 15 years or so, said Rick Snider, a well-known sports journalist in
the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
Communities such as Southern Maryland are indicative of the kind of
synergy that can exist between minor-league ball and anywhere America.
Some fans, such as those in Charles County, are so enthusiastic about
having a professional sports team in their area that they invite players
to live in their homes for free. In the same vein, Blue Crabs players
understand that public relations is important. They make community
appearances and happily give eager kids autographs, said Courtney
Freeland, marketing manager.
Minor-league baseball is made up of players at various stages in their
careers. Some may be rookies, while others may have once played for the
majors and suffered injuries or career setbacks, but they all "have the
dream to make it (or go back) to the big leagues," explained Snider.
Snider worked at the Maryland Independent in the early 1980s and for 20
years with The Washington Times. He now writes a column for The
Washington Examiner and has dug into the blogosphere at
But Snider isn't just a newshound - he's also a Waldorf resident who has
attended a handful of Blue Crabs games and likes having the team here.
His praise includes descriptors such as "reasonably priced," "safe,"
"family-oriented" and "100-percent positive" - which just happens to gel
with the brand-building that the Blue Crabs organization is doing.
Blue Crabs executives know that building a strong community presence and
marketing to children and moms are key, but meeting bottomline goals
literally requires "thinking outside of the box." During the off season,
management and staffers work long hours to firm up player contracts,
partnership deals, sponsorships, group events, promotions, publicity,
fresh marketing materials and tactics, and ticket sales. "Putting people
in the ballpark happens now," Roque said back in January.
The "Crustacean Nation" 2009 season encompasses unique ticket packets,
birthday parties, up-to-date Web content at www.somdbluecrabs.com, open
auditions for talent, group picnics, military discounts, special dinner
gatherings at the Legends Club and fireworks. But there are also
outreach initiatives such as the "Field of Dreams" program costing $15
that invites Little Leaguers and other youth groups onto the field to
stand alongside their favorite players prior to each game; visits from
team mascot Pinch and Freeland to local schools; the "Pinch Onto Books"
reading program (a partnership with the Educational Systems Federal
Credit Union) through which students read books and earn free lawn
tickets for their schools' designated nights at the ballpark; and the
Backfin Buddies Kids Club, sponsored by Chick-fil-A, with free loot such
as an autograph book, pencil, T-shirt, temporary tattoo, and a free
"The Blue Crabs have been a wonderful addition to St. Charles and to
Charles County," said Craig Renner, assistant vice president of
community relations at American Community Properties Trust, the company
that donated land for the stadium. "They are heavily involved in the
community, supporting numerous charitable endeavors. We have a box at
the stadium and I distributed tickets to the box to hundreds of people,
including our employees and people in our community. I can't think of
one person who reported a negative experience."
"When I came here (to Blue Crabs games), I fell in love with baseball
again," said Sorrells. He is one of nearly 225,000 guests the Blue Crabs
pulled in throughout the inaugural 2008 season, which ran from May 2
through Sept. 17, and included 70 home games. To prove his support of
the Blue Crabs and that he believes the stadium is a valuable venue and
amenity for the area, Sorrells is putting his money where his mouth is.
He pays $25,000 annually for a stadium Sky Suite.
The 2008 season "fulfilled all of our expectations and hopes in terms of
being a focal point for the community," said Charles County Commissioner
Gary V. Hodge, (D-District 4). "We had never had a facility in Southern
Maryland that fulfilled that purpose, so this was a breakthrough for the
region. This is our first professional sports enterprise here." Hodge
has worked in various capacities - from a Tri-County Council of Southern
Maryland consultant to a Charles County commissioner - to see the
stadium and funding come to fruition.
Despite several hiccups - including Hughesville residents who did not
want the stadium in their area - and decades of trying to bring
minor-league baseball to Charles County, the region prevailed. The
response from area citizens has been overwhelmingly positive, according
to new Blue Crabs General Manager Chris Allen.
Driven, young and savvy, Allen represents the essence of minor-league
baseball: build a name on the grassroots level and success will follow.
A sure sign of this philosophy is the more than $100,000 the Blue Crabs
helped raise for various local and national nonprofits throughout 2008
and its announcement that the Charles County Hospice House is its 2009
"charity of choice."
In defining the success behind the stadium and team, Hodge emphasized
that the stadium and baseball team were never intended to be a direct
"big money-maker" for the county. He primarily views them as a
"quality-of-life" amenity that helps spotlight the county, for instance,
for companies considering to locate here, and provides both a
professional sports experience and a top-notch recreational outlet for
Hodge and others, however, said the stadium and Blue Crabs have created
an offshoot economic engine. To illustrate this, Allen points to the
jobs that were created to build the stadium as well as maintain both
full-time and seasonal staff; the money that is spent in the area for
hotel accommodations for guest teams; recruited players, management and
employees who live, shop, pay taxes and eat in the region; the more than
$120,000 in admission and amusement taxes and $100,000 in sales taxes
that were generated in 2008; and the businesses whose profits are tied
to the stadium.
And this kind of boost, fans agree, is welcome during these economic
times. Still, Bob Richardson, district commissioner of St. Mary's Babe
Ruth Baseball, said the impact of the Blue Crabs and stadium is more
about good, clean fun. "It's terrific," he said. "The kids just love it
and the stadium is very nice. We're tickled to have it down here."
To find out more about the Blue Crabs and view its schedule of games,
|The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs team is
owned by Brooks Robinson and Opening Day Partners, LLC, an owner
and operator of minor-league teams for more than two decades.
The Blue Crabs play in the Atlantic League of Professional
Baseball, an eight-team league created in 1998. The league is
what is called "independent" because it is not affiliated with a
Charles County owns the Regency Furniture Stadium and leases the
stadium to Opening Day.
The stadium cost more than $26 million, with the state providing
more than $8.6 million, the Blue Crabs more than $9.5 million
and the county approximately $8 million, according to Charles
County Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D-District 4).
The 42.7-acre parcel for the stadium was given by American
Community Properties Trust (ACPT). There was also another 138.4
acres given for the College of Southern Maryland's athletic
fields and a future high school.
The stadium has also been a venue for concerts, with headliners
such as 1980s rock band REO Speedwagon. The Blue Crabs also
partnered with Kool Productions to put on a country music
festival in September 2008.