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December 6, 2019

Keys Baseball In Jeopardy

Guest Columnist

Chaz Packan

The Frederick Keys baseball franchise has been a local staple here in Frederick County since 1989.  The Keys became the Orioles High Single-A affiliate over 30 years ago, bringing exciting and affordable baseball action to the city of Frederick.

Since that time the Keys have been one of the Orioles most successful and winningest minor league affiliates. Capturing Carolina League titles in 1990, 2005, 2007, and 2011 with an all-star cast of future Orioles.  Names such as Jonathan Schoop and Manny Machado who would go on to be the cornerstones of the franchise during the Orioles playoff years from 2012 to 2016. 

Recently, despite the Orioles franchise rebuilding at the Major League level, the Keys have been a strong home base for the Orioles budding young talent.  Talent like shortstop Cadyn Grenier who the Orioles drafted as the 37th Pick in the Competitive Balance Round of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) draft out of Oregon State.

His teammate Catcher Adley Rutschman was recently taken as the #1 pick in this year’s MLB draft by the Orioles. As of the end of the 2019 season he is currently playing for fellow Orioles Low-A affiliate the Delmarva Shorebirds.

This young talent has led to remarkable fan participation and attendance across all levels of Orioles affiliates, particularly our Frederick Keys who have led the Carolina League in attendance five straight seasons including the 2019 season. 

The Keys averaged 4,838 fans attending per game with a total of 314,443 fans attending each of the Keys home games.  This is the 5th straight season the Keys have had over 300,000 fans visit Harry Grove Stadium.

Despite all the success of Minor League Baseball in Frederick and around the nation, Major League Baseball has come forward with a proposal which would cut 42 minor league affiliates including the Keys from Minor League Baseball. Major League Baseball contends this proposal is necessary in order to make improvements to minor league facilities and improve working conditions for players.

However the Keys have made the key renovations needed to maintain the integrity of fan and player experiences at Harry Grove Stadium, including a state of the art LED scoreboard complete with video and audio.  There’s also a newly renovated clubhouse for Keys players.  For the fans there is upgraded stadium seating and brand new concession areas with new food items to add to their overall experience.

Finally, as a former employee and lifelong fan of the Keys I was extremely shocked the Keys were mentioned in this proposal.  They have been an integral part of my life growing up as an Orioles fan and a baseball fan in general. During my time as an employee I had the pleasure of interviewing several Keys players and writing player profiles on them for the Keys Game Day program handed out during each home-stand.

I was also a contributor to the Keys “Rounding The Bases” blog while working alongside former Keys broadcaster Adam Pohl.  He is currently working for the Orioles Double-A affiliate the Bowie Baysox.

When interviewed, Adam had strong feelings about this proposal, echoing the sentiments of Frederick residents who were also stunned, he said “The Keys are not just an important piece of the Frederick community but an integral asset to marketing Orioles Baseball to the fans of Frederick County.”   Pohl added “There is no doubt reforms need to be made for minor league baseball players but in a multi-billion dollar industry eliminating more than a quarter of minor league baseball to do it, is ridiculous.”

Another key figure in the Keys organization General Manager Dave Ziedelis responded to this proposal in comments per the Frederick-News-Post “We don’t like it one bit we are very surprised we are on the list we run a great organization here so we are very surprised.”

The Keys are in current negotiations with Major League Baseball and nothing has been finalized.  At the time of this writing the Keys are slated to play the 2020 season. However Frederick residents and Keys fans hope they will be “Shaking their Keys” beyond the 2020 season.

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