The city of Norfolk had been without pro baseball since the Tars of the Piedmont League folded on July 13, 1955. The Portsmouth Merrimacs finished that season, but the league folded after the season.
A South Atlantic League exhibition game was held in Portsmouth at Lawrence Stadium and was followed by a study by Joe Ryan and Marshall Fox (who became the first General Manager of the Tides) to bring baseball back to the area. A Tidewater franchise in the South Atlantic League was granted in 1961 to businessman William McDonald of Miami, FL.
The name "Tides" was selected in a contest conducted by The Virginian-Pilot. Mariners was the name of choice, but editor Robert Mason liked the sound and alliteration of Tidewater Tides.
The team operated in the South Atlantic League for two years, the first as an independent, and the second with a Cardinal working agreement. Granny Hamner, the former Phillie Whiz Kid, became the first manager.
In 1963, the Sally League decided against continuing in Virginia because of travel requirements, and the prospect of losing baseball again loomed. However, Dave Rosenfield, Assistant General Manager in 1962, led a local group to gain admittance to the Carolina League in tandem with a Peninsula franchise.
The Tides operated in the Carolina League for six years under Tidewater Professional Sports, Inc., which was led by the late Richard J. Davis, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia.
In 1969, the New York Mets moved their Triple-A International League franchise from Jacksonville, FL to Tidewater. T.P.S. Inc. continued to run the team, but it was owned by the Mets. That first year in Triple-A was played in Portsmouth's Lawrence Stadium and the Tides went on to win the pennant under manager Clyde McCullough. At the same time, the Mets helped the City of Norfolk finance the construction of 6,200 seat Met Park.
The Tidewater Tides enjoyed unparralleled success in the 70s and 80s, as Tidewater won Governors' Cup championships in 1972, '75, '82, '83 and '85. During that time, the Tides competed in the first and last Fall Classic of Minor League Champions, the last Junior World Series, and they won the first Triple-A World Series in 1983 - a fall classic that was not played again until 1998.
The Tides captured the 1982 Governors' Cup, beating Columbus and Rochester en route to the title. The team's playoff run was bolstered by a young outfielder named Darryl Strawberry, who also opened the 1983 season with the Tides before being promoted to New York, where he would embark on an All-Star career. The 1983 Tides were skippered by Davey Johnson, who led the Tides to the Governors' Cup Title before going on to manage the Mets in 1984.
The success in Tidewater translated to the major leagues as well. When the New York Mets won the World Series over the Boston Red Sox in 1986, they did so with a team that consisted of 14 former Tides, a list that included stars like Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, Ron Darling and Lenny Dykstra, among others. Former Tides skipper Davey Johnson managed that squad to their first World Series title since 1969.
The Tides continued their strong performances in the late 80s, as Mike Cubbage's 1987 team won the International League pennant by virtue of having the best record. Several team records were set during that 1987 campaign, and the Tides advanced to the IL Finals only to be upset by the Pawtucket Red Sox. The Tides advanced to the IL Finals in 1988 as well, but fell in four games to the Rochester Red Wings.
The Tides franchise saw many changes during the early 1990s, as the Mets agreed to sell the franchise to a group led by businessman Ken Young in 1992. That year ground was also broken on a new state-of-the-art facility in downtown Norfolk. The club dropped the Tidewater name in favor of Norfolk to give the team a national geographic presence. Also, the City of Norfolk was quite instrumental in keeping the team in the area by getting the new stadium financed and built.
Harbor Park was opened on April 14, 1993, as the Tides beat the Ottawa Lynx 2-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 12,113. The Tides set a franchise record for attendance in 1993 when 542,040 fans bought tickets to a game at Harbor Park. General Manager Dave Rosenfield won his 4th IL Executive of the Year Award and the team won its first John H. Johnson President's Trophy from the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues. This award is emblematic of the "complete" baseball franchise. It is based on the club's history and commitment to the community, as well as success financially and at the box office.
In 1994, the Tides won the Triple-A Bob Freitas Award from Baseball America, and the club once again set an attendance record with 557,586 fans. The Tides established another new attendance record in 1995, as 586,317 fans watched the Tides advance to the International League postseason for the first time since 1988.
The 1995 season was Harbor Park's first foray into postseason play as the Tides tied the franchise record with 86 wins, a mark last accomplished in 1975. The Tides were selected by Baseball America as its "Team Of The Year" as more than a dozen players graduated to the Major League level during the year. Norfolk swept the International League postseason awards, as Jason Isringhausen was named Rookie of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, Butch Huskey was named IL MVP, and Toby Harrah was named IL Manager of the Year. The Tides beat Richmond in the IL Semifinals, but fell to Ottawa in six games in the IL Championship series.
1996 saw a return to postseason play, and also the return of a manager. Bobby Valentine returned to skipper the Tides, becoming the first manager to serve a second tour of duty at the helm of the Tides. Valentine's return did not last the full season, however, as he was promoted to New York to replace Dallas Green as the Mets manager on August 26th, taking longtime pitching coach Bob Apodaca with him. The Tides went on to drop the IL Semifinals to Columbus.
Harbor Park played host to some large concerts near the turn of the century, as Leann Rimes (1996), Tim McGraw (1997), Willie Nelson (2009), John Mellencamp (2009) and Bob Dylan (2009) all played Harbor Park.
The Tides hosted the 11th Annual Triple-A All-Star Classic in 1998 to rave reviews in front of a national television and radio audience. Outfielder Benny Agbayani made the All-Star Game a memorable one, as he and his wife were married at home plate prior to that night's contest. Manager Rick Dempsey and his team finished the season with a 70-72 record as they finished 2nd in the South Division of the expended IL, behind newcomer Durham.
Former player John Gibbons returned to manage the Tides in 1999, as he led the Tides to a 77-63 mark. Gibbons skippered the Tides in both 2000 and 2001, and he led the club to the IL postseason in 2001 after posting an 86-57 mark. The 2001 squad won the division by 12 games, but a series of September callups decimated the squad as Norfolk fell in the first round of the playoffs to Louisville.
The Tides suffered back-to-back losing campaigns in 2002 and 2003, but the 2003 campaign featured New York's top prospect in shortstop Jose Reyes. The youngster dazzled in his brief time with the Tides, swiping 26 bases before his promotion in June. Later during that 2003 season, the Tides set numerous attendance records when fans flocked to Harbor Park to get a glimpse of future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in a rehab assignment. Piazza homered once during his five-game stint with the Tides before he returned to New York.
The 2004 season was highlighted by the promotion of Chesapeake native David Wright to the Tides in mid-June. Wright hit .298 with 8 home runs and 17 RBI in just 31 games with Norfolk before being promoted to New York in July. Wright would go on to become a seven-time All-Star with the Mets, helping New York to the postseason in 2006 and 2015.
The Tides returned to the playoffs in 2005, as manager Ken Oberkfell helped the Tides win the South Division by a record 14.0 games. Pitcher Jason Scobie earned the starting nod at the Triple-A All-Star game and eventually tied a Tides franchise record with 15 wins, while Brian Daubach powered Norfolk's offense throughout the season. The Tides fell to eventual league champion Toledo in five games in the semifinals of the playoffs.
Norfolk struggled to a 57-84 mark in 2006, using a season-ending five-game winning streak to avoid posting the worst record in franchise history. 26 different Tides appeared in the major leagues, including John Maine and Oliver Perez, who both pitched tremendously for the parent New York Mets during the postseason. 2006 turned out to be the 38th and final year for the Tides as the Mets Triple-A affiliate, as Norfolk partnered with the Baltimore Orioles after the season concluded.
The 2007 season got off to a great start, as the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Washington Nationals in a Major League spring training game in front of a sellout crowd at Harbor Park. Mike Cervenak became the first Tides player to lead the league in hits in 11 years, while local product Jason Dubois was one of five Norfolk players to reach double figures in home runs. Norfolk finished the season 69-74.
On October 28, 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama campaigned before a crowd of over 20,000 at Harbor Park. One week later, he was named the 44th president of the United States.
The 2009 Tides found themselves with the top record in all of minor league baseball (34-15) when play began on June 1, but that success was limited once the club lost several players to Baltimore, including Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, Brad Bergesen, and David Hernandez. Strong pitching performances by youngsters Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta, as well as a solid offensive season from infielder Justin Turner helped Norfolk end the year with a 71-71 record.
The 2010 season saw a midseason managerial change, as Bobby Dickerson replaced Gary Allenson on June 4 after Allenson was promoted to the Baltimore Orioles coaching staff. The season was highlighted by a nine-inning no-hitter from 22-year-old Chris Tillman, who tossed the gem on April 28 at Gwinnett. Norfolk ended the season 67-77, placing them third in the IL South Division.
Norfolk returned to its winning ways in 2012, as new manager Ron Johnson navigated a staggering amount of roster moves to guide the Tides to a 74-70 record - Norfolk's first winning season as an Orioles affiliate. The Tides set an IL record by using 75 different players, and Norfolk tied the league record by using 25 different starting pitchers. 26 players appeared for both the Tides and Orioles, as Baltimore advanced to the postseason for the first time since 1997.
The 2013 Tides nearly returned to the postseason, as Norfolk took a one-game lead in the Wild Card standings into the final day of the season, only to see Rochester pull even with a last day win. Norfolk and Rochester each finished with identical 77-67 records, but the Red Wings advanced to the playoffs due to winning the season series. Norfolk closer Jairo Asencio led the league with 28 saves and was named to the postseason All-Star team.
In Ron Johnson's third year at the helm of the Tides, Norfolk finished in third place in the IL South. Twenty one different players played for both the Tides and Orioles, as Baltimore won the American League East Division for the first time since the 1997 campaign. The O's defeated the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series before falling to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
Norfolk returned to the postseason in 2015 by finishing 78-66 atop the difficult IL South - the first division in league history to have each of its teams finish above the .500 mark. Ron Johnson was named IL Manager of the Year, while closer Oliver Drake and outfielder Dariel Alvarez were both named to the postseason All-Star Team. Youngsters Christian Walker, Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright helped lead the Tides into the postseason, where Norfolk lost a five-game series to eventual IL Champions Columbus.
The Tides missed the postseason in 2016, but several former Tides were instrumental in helping the Orioles advance to the AL Wild Card Game - Baltimore's third playoff appearance over a five-year span.
2017 kicked off with an Exhibition Game between the Tides and Orioles, the fifth time the O's had played in Norfolk since 2007. In the 25th season of baseball at Harbor Park, Norfolk finished with a 66-76 record. Veteran slugger Pedro Alvarez was named to the postseason All-Star team after ranking among league leaders in home runs (5th, 26) and RBI (2nd, 89).
In 2018, the Tides were in the thick of a playoff chase all season long, but a late-season skid dropped Norfolk to 69-71. The Tides saw 33 different players appear with Norfolk and Baltimore, with 13 players making their Major League debuts with the Orioles.