I just found out that the Frederick Keys will no longer be a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Instead, they will be part of the six-team MLB Draft League, a summer, collegiate wooden bat league that will feature many high-end prospects. It will be similar to the Valley Baseball League, but these players will be from the major colleges and the league will be supervised by Major League Baseball. All of this is part of the restructuring of the minor leagues, which I fully understand and fully support.
It is sad news, nevertheless. Must everything in my life change or disappear, even down to an A ball team in the Carolina League?
The Keys began as an affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles—my team—and remained an Oriole affiliate for their entire existence. Such lengthy associations are rare in minor league baseball.
Martha and I attended the very first Keys game when they debuted in 1989 at McCurdy Field, and the roster featured a young third baseman named Pete Rose, Jr. Becky and I attended the 2005 Carolina League All-Star Game in 2005 and were thrilled when a young Oriole prospect named Nick Markakis was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Martha and I went to the 2019 All-Star game in Frederick and got autographs from Oriole prospect Michael Baumann among others.
We saw lots of players come and go, some you’ve heard of, most you have not. Two of my favorites, you have not. Blaine Sims was a left-handed pitcher who was signed to a professional contract after pitching a game for the Rebels down in New Market one night. His grandparents—Honey and Dino—were regular listeners to our broadcast over the Internet and when Blaine was eventually assigned to Lynchburg, we went out to watch him pitch. I took video of Blaine facing his first batter in the Carolina League. That can be seen here.
Kevin Brown had been a third baseman/outfielder with New Market. He didn’t even start when he first arrived, but he kept at it, always working at his craft, and eventually signed to play professionally. He was assigned to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and we would go to Frederick to watch him play and to visit. Despite being old enough to be his father, it still made me feel little-boy cool that he would leave us tickets and we would get to visit with him. And he was grateful to see a friendly face in the visiting crowd, and hear that his old hitting coach, Mo Weber, was doing well.
Harry Grove Stadium holds other memories, too. Martha and I went to see Field of Dreams projected onto a big screen near second base. Seeing that movie in a real ballpark was a hauntingly beautiful experience. Becky, Sarah, and I went to see a WWE wrestling card one night, when all three of us were going through a pro wrestling phase. (Where have you gone, Moondawg Spot?)
My buddy Al’s dad used to have season tickets to the Keys, and I would meet the two of them occasionally. Don, an old friend from my youth group days, and I reconnected at Harry Grove, and for three years, I arranged a night at the ballpark for my dance family. We can still do that, of course. Heck most of my fellow dancers go for the food and the fellowship anyway, and wouldn’t know what level of baseball they’re watching. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s wonderful, but for me and for Martha, there will always be a little sense of what used to be and isn’t anymore.