These Crabs haven't caught on - LancasterOnline: Sports

These Crabs haven't caught on

Southern Maryland battling remote location, lack of media coverage

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Posted: Monday, June 23, 2008 12:03 pm | Updated: 6:50 pm, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

The gigantic sign that looms above the left-field fence lets everyone know where they're sitting.

Regency Furniture Stadium, it boldly proclaims, the home of Crustacean Nation.

For the expansion Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, it's an idea more than a reality at this point. The team hasn't been around long enough to establish the kind of ardent fan base that could be described as a nation.

That's a moniker founded by the St. Louis Cardinals and adopted by the Boston Red Sox - franchises with wide-ranging geographical support.

The hope is that some day the Blue Crabs can have that kind of appeal on a minor-league scale. The team is located in Waldorf, a small, rural Washington D.C. suburb that is part of Charles County. Population here is a little more than 20,000.

The Blue Crabs' fledgling fan base comes from the immediate area as well as neighboring St. Mary's and Calvert Counties. A few fans make the trip from Prince George County in Northern Virginia.

If this project turns out the way Opening Day Partners - the company that owns the Blue Crabs, Lancaster Barnstormers and York Revolution --expects, this will become all of southern Maryland's home team.

It's not there, yet.

"We're not drawing like we'd like to, but I think it's going to take some time," Blue Crabs manager Butch Hobson said. "I think they're doing a very good job of getting the word out. It's going to be one of those things that next year is going to take off."

Attendance has been modest through the first two months. Southern Maryland is drawing roughly 3,000 fans a game, which ranks sixth in the eight-team Atlantic League. The club has faced obstacles in creating that new-team buzz that expansion franchises covet.

This area is not like Lancaster and York, which have a deep-rooted and self-contained provincial pride that goes back generations.

There's little local media in Waldorf. Southern Maryland gets its local news from a twice-a-week paper and a twice-a-week insert in the Washington Post. The games aren't broadcast on the radio or internet because there wasn't a station lining up for the rights.

When the Barnstormers were inching closer to their debut, it was greeted with months of hype. Here, it's hard to find out what's going on with the Blue Crabs.

The stadium's middle-of-nowhere setting doesn't help matters.

To get here from the north, you drive along Route 301 South - a four-lane road which runs parallel to the District of Columbia. You pass miles of the typical suburban sprawl of strip malls and chain eateries until, at one point, a sign tells you to turn left.

About 2½ miles off Route 301 is Regency Furniture Stadium. There is absolutely nothing around it.

The structure was built on an empty dirt and grass lot surrounded only by trees. It seems out of place, as if one day a ballpark mysteriously sprouted out of the ground and people just decided to start playing here.

"You can go and take a walk out behind right field and see a bunch of deer feeding," Hobson said with a smile. "I like that. I might even get my bow and arrow."

This area isn't expected to be vacant for long. There are plans for a new high school, along with numerous housing developments in the vicinity. This portion of Charles County is one of the few places in southern Maryland that hasn't seen a population boom from burgeoning D.C. It will happen eventually and, when it does, there will be a minor-league baseball team waiting.

The ballpark itself is impressive. It's the latest of the state-of-the-art venues that combine some big-league amenities with minor-league charm.

Many of the luxury boxes are on the concourse level, which puts fans remarkably close to the action. The front row of their section is the seventh row of seats. You can clearly hear the ball hitting the catcher's mitt after each pitch.

The big suite - Regency's equivalent of the Wheatland at Clipper Magazine Stadium - is a separate building located down the left-field line. It's turned slightly to face home plate.

"It's an neat looking place," said Blue Crabs pitcher Derrick DePriest, who played for the Barnstormers last season.

"I think this is the only place where you have a suite and you're almost at ground level. Everywhere else you're really elevated. It's a unique feature for this ballpark."

The playing field itself is the mirror image of the Clip. The short porch and 17-foot wall with picnic tents is in left field and it holds a large manual scoreboard. The giant TV screen stands in right-center.

The dimensions are slightly deeper - 310 feet to the wall in left (compared to the alleged 300 feet at the Clip) - so while this is a hitter-friendly place in that direction, it's more fair to the pitchers.

The Blue Crabs are drawing more fans in June than they did in May. On this Saturday night, with fireworks as an added attraction, there are over 4,200 people in attendance. Most of the small seating bowl is filled.

The players get the sense they're becoming part of the fabric of the town.

"You see Crustacean Nation signs throughout the community and posted in lawns in front of the houses," DePriest said. "It's nice. If you go out to the bars and restaurants at night, you see some Blue Crabs hats and T-shirts. It's catching on, for sure."

Blue Crabs vice president Brad Sims said the team is drawing about as many fans as it budgeted. There was no expectation that this project would be an immediate overwhelming success.

The franchise's prospects aren't focused solely on today. They're reliant on potential, on what this area will become.

Everyone associated with the Blue Crabs has the same feeling. Once word spreads, there really will be a Crustacean Nation.

Staff writer Jason Guarente can be reached at jguarente@LNPnews.com or 291-8777.