In reasoning that is as puzzling as it is infuriating, Major League Baseball has listed the Frederick Keys as one of 42 minor league baseball teams that could be effectively forced out of business at the end of next season.
Over the weekend, The New York Times and others reported that MLB is proposing to sever ties between the 42 teams and their “parent” major league clubs that supply the players and coaches for the teams. The Keys have been the Advanced Class A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles since 1989.
Major League Baseball says it wants to shrink the number of minor league teams to make the development of players more efficient and improve working conditions for players. National experts said the end of the parent club ties would likely kill most of those franchises.
First, the inclusion of the Keys on the hit list is puzzling. The Times reported that the league had identified several factors to determine which teams would retain major league affiliation. Those included proximity to its parent club and to potential opponents, the condition of the facilities and everyday life, such as hotel availability and general security.
Our answers, in order, are:
- Harry Grove Stadium is exactly 48.2 miles from Camden Yards, where the Orioles play. The other teams in the Carolina League are located from Wilmington, Delaware, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Frederick is the only franchise on the hit list.
- The stadium was built in 1990 and has been improved regularly over those years. Keys staff said if improvements to the stadium are needed, they would make them.
- The stadium is in a safe location and has easy access to several nearby hotels.
So, what gives, MLB?
“When you look at the business of Minor League Baseball, we are one of the strongest teams around,” Keys general manager Dave Ziedelis told News-Post reporter Greg Swatek on Monday.
The major and minor leagues are in contentious negotiations, and that may be playing a role in the threat. It is possible that MLB is once again trying to play rough, trying to wring every single dollar out of its purported partners in the minor leagues.
But this may be serious, and that is a real concern for Frederick and many other communities that offer great support to their minor league teams. The Hagerstown Suns franchise is also on the list.
The Keys drew 263,528 fans this season, despite losing 10 home games to weather cancellations. They led the Carolina League in average attendance at 4,329, the eighth straight season the team had ranked first or second.
“We don’t like it one bit. We are very surprised we are on list,” the Keys’ Ziedelis said. “You know, we do well as a business. We do well in our support of the community. We draw well, and we run a great organization and operation here. So, we are very surprised.”
That is why we find the prospect of losing the Keys infuriating as well. This franchise is a success story. Why would it be targeted?
Nationally, baseball is struggling to put people in the seats, with attendance falling 7 percent since 2015. The situation with Baltimore is worse. Attendance at Orioles games was down 16 percent just this year, to 1.3 million. The Baltimore Business Journal said that is the lowest season attendance in the 27-year history of Camden Yards, and the worst for the Orioles since 1978.
Does this really seem like a great time to anger a good chunk of your dwindling fan base by closing both minor league teams in western Maryland? Minor league stadiums are a family-friendly way to introduce children to professional baseball. Many young fans of the Keys follow their favorite players to the Orioles.
Whatever MLB thinks, the Orioles should work with the Keys and the city of Frederick to prevent this shortsighted, wrongheaded decision.