Southern Maryland makes Atlantic League whole
Southern Maryland replaces the traveling Road Warriors in 2008.
By Chuck King
Atlantic League commissioner Joe Klein had been waiting for this opening day since well before the final out of last season.
When Southern Maryland Blue Crabs knocked off Somerset 3-1 in Friday’s season opener, Klein’s league became whole again.
The Blue Crabs took the place of the Road Warriors, a traveling team that has been a part of the Atlantic League for every season but one since 2000.
“The addition of Southern Maryland and the completion of the York ballpark this year, it will really mean a lot as far as attendance is concerned,” Klein said.
Playing a 140-game schedule for the first time since 2004, Klein expects the league to draw more close to 2.25 million fans this season, which would be a record for the 11-year-old league.
The league broke its single-day attendance mark on Friday when 28,982 fans packed into ballparks in Lancaster, Camden, Long Island and Somerset.
Southern Maryland could average 4,000 per game, putting it right in the middle of the league’s attendance hierarchy.
While the independent Atlantic League became famous for bringing in former major league stars like Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco, Blue Crabs fans will see a young team, skippered by former Boston Red Sox third baseman Butch Hobson.
This is Hobson’s second go round in the league. He stayed with Nashua when the Pride left the Atlantic League to join the Can-Am League in 2006.
“You here so many good things about him,” said George Sandel. “He’s coached against me. I’m excited to play for him.”
Though the league has reached a comfortable eight teams, it may not be finished with expansion.
Klein would like to get a playmate/rival team for Southern Maryland somewhere in northern Virginia. He said the league could expand to a suburb of Boston, Yonkers, and possibly a team in the new Meadowlands complex being designed in New Jersey.
Ideally, Klein sees the Atlantic League growing to 12 teams, but doesn’t have a timetable for that kind of expansion.
“I think the players are there to support it,” Klein said. “All indications are that MLB in the next couple of years is going to look to streamline their systems, as opposed to expand them, to reduce their player development costs. We need to be ready to take care of that.”
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