I know it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, but usually this time of year I actually start getting excited about the upcoming baseball season. Usually, by now, I am receiving a solicitation in the mail from the Frederick Keys to renew my ticket plan. The Nationals and the Orioles are usually just weeks away from their annual Fanfest. On top of that, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training in less than 90 days.

But this year, at least thus far, I’m not feeling it. Maybe it is because the shortened and fanless season that wrapped up last month left a big void that has yet to be filled. Don’t get me wrong, I did catch a number of games on TV and was glad in the age of the pandemic that we had any sports to watch. But it is likely because the future of the Frederick Keys is still unknown.

In fact, there is still a lot of uncertainty with minor league baseball in general. Of course, the entire minor league season was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus. Who knows if anything will be different in the spring? In addition, however, the biggest unknown is where things stand with Major League Baseball’s contraction plan. Sometime last year, if you recall, they announced their intent to whittle 160 minor league teams down to 120. They have started to do so, and the Frederick Keys were on a list of potential teams to be eliminated.

The expectation is that each Big League team must cut one of its minor league affiliates. In many cases, the short-season team is the one getting the ax. But the short-season team for the Baltimore Orioles is the Aberdeen Ironbirds, which is owned by Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. They also have a very nice stadium, and it is the newest facility among the O’s farm teams as well. So that means either the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Frederick Keys, Bowie Baysox, or Norfolk Tide are in the crossfire. In one of my previous columns, I hypothesized the various reasons why keeping the Frederick Keys over those other teams made sense. Delmarva, Frederick, and Bowie are located in Maryland and within close proximity to Baltimore. Norfolk is the newest affiliate and the furthest away.

The wild card in this however is that three of the teams mentioned above (Frederick, Bowie, and Norfolk) are owned by Ken Young, who is president and owner of Maryland Baseball Holdings LLC. Does having three teams help his case or does it hurt? He obviously carries some clout in the business. In fact, he also serves on minor league baseball’s board of trustees. But that could be a hinderance if anyone at Camden Yards or elsewhere want to disperse power or financial interests.

But let’s take a moment to look at the Washington Nationals farm system. Two of their affiliates, the Auburn Doubledays and Hagerstown Suns, appeared on the list of 42 teams up for elimination. Auburn is their short-season team, so that makes sense. Unfortunately, the fact that the Hagerstown Suns play in such an old and antiquated stadium was the likely reason they appeared there. On top of this, their AAA team is all the way out in Fresno, California, which doesn’t make much sense. If any of these possibilities remain, then the 2019 World Series champions could be seeking a team to add into its fold. Frederick happens to be 45 miles away from the nation’s capital, about the same distance away from Charm City. This is mere speculation. But the one thing I can tell you is, as long as the Keys continue to play, my wife and I will be in the stands rooting for them.

Shuan Butcher is a writer, nonprofit professional, event planner, amateur photographer, wannabe background actor, travel enthusiast and occasional sports fan.

(1) comment

Blueline

As a Keys fan, I think we're in trouble here. The Nats will probably move their AAA team to Rochester. Harry Grove doesn't qualify as a AAA capacity stadium anyway, and may not even be a AA stadium. The Nats just moved the high A to Fredericksburg, so unlikely that they would move.. It will come down to Frederick or Delmarva getting the ax. Since the Keys draw well, I wonder if someone would move a team here, but I'm not sure if the 50-mile territorial rights applies to minor-league teams.

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