25 years later, Perdue Stadium still glows

Submitted to Dorchester Banner
Players are introduced at one of the Shorefins’ home games. The team is part of the Baltimore Orioles’ farm system.

SALISBURY — Long before an era when brand-new minor league ballparks became in vogue, the Delmarva Shorebirds built something to last. Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, which first opened its gates in 1996, is currently the fourth-oldest park in the 14-team South Atlantic League. Despite nearly a quarter-century of use, the “Big Chicken Wing” is still a favorite destination for fans, Orioles prospects, and visiting Sally Leaguers alike.

“I remember that the stadium was amazing,” said 1997 Shorebird star reliever Ryan Kohlmeier. “I was a guy that came right out of a small junior college, so I really had no exposure to stadiums that looked like that. That was a huge treat…and when we traveled around all the other stadiums in the South Atlantic League, you definitely understood how spoiled you were.”

The quest to bring pro baseball back to the Eastern Shore began before the area even secured a team, as meticulously documented in Dr. Richard Passwater’s widely-read 2005 guide Celebrating Champions. In 1994, Maryland Baseball LP presented plans to the Wicomico County Council for a mostly privately-funded stadium to be built on land donated by Perdue Farms baron Frank Perdue, who invested $4 million into the project that was eventually named for his father.

The ownership group turned to The Design Exchange Architects for the design, zoning in on “Godmother of Stadiums” Trish England. When Maryland Baseball secured an SAL team for 1996, eventually purchasing the Albany (Ga.) Polecats, construction began in earnest in the summer of 1995.

The inaugural Shorebirds spent the first two weeks of 1996 on the road before finally arriving at Perdue Stadium for the April 17 opener. Manager Doug Sisson remembers his players staying up to see the new park as the bus rolled in for the first time. Behind a stellar pitching performance from future big-league mainstay Javier Vazquez, the Shorebirds beat the Columbus RedStixx 4-2 in front of 5,787 new Delmarva faithful.

“At that point in [the Expos organization], that was the place to play,” said Sisson in 2018. “This is the truth: when I told guys they were getting promoted…they didn’t want to leave.”
The feelings stayed the same when the Orioles took over the affiliation from Montreal in 1997. Baltimore sent top-rate talent to a facility that, for some, is still the best in all of Birdland. The Shorebirds won two Sally League pennants (1997, 2000) in their first four years under the Oriole umbrella.

“I remember pulling up here and thinking that I must be in the wrong place,” said former Orioles All-Star and onetime Shorebird Brian Roberts. “I had seen A-ball stadiums before and they did not look like this. I loved this place, and we are all very spoiled to have this in our organization.”

The league office took notice. Revered former SAL president John Henry Moss deemed the location of the stadium, just off U.S. Route 50 and the Highway 113 bypass, as perfect for residents, players, and visitors. Perdue Stadium hosted the Sally League All-Star Game in 1999 and again in 2011, and it could be due to host another in the early 2020s.
Over the years the Shorebirds and ownership group 7th Inning Stretch have made several improvements to the park, always with the blessing of the local community, including last year’s new 360-degree outfield deck. It’s all endeavored to keep one of the now-vintage yards of the Sally League feeling fresh and fan-friendly. Indeed, the fan support has not gone unnoticed from the young men who call Arthur W. home 70 nights out of the year.

“It was always great pitching in front of the home crowd,” said 2019 ace Grayson Rodriguez. “The atmosphere is electric. The Eastern Shore has great baseball fans and it was always an honor getting to throw in front of them.”

Delmarva’s most recent game at Perdue Stadium – a September 6 postseason showdown against Hickory, and the first home playoff game in 14 years – exhibited an unrivaled postseason atmosphere. By the time its gates open again, no doubt it will once again take its place as a gem of the Sally League, the Orioles system, and all of Minor League Baseball.