First the good news: The Frederick Keys will continue to play ball during the summer at Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium. Now the less good news, the team will no longer be affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles organization, and the quality of play will probably be a bit lower.
The very existence of the team has been in doubt since it was revealed in 2019 that Major League Baseball wanted to eliminate 42 minor league teams in a major restructuring of the sport. The Keys were one of the teams on the chopping block.
Major League Baseball said at the time it wanted to reduce the number of minor league teams to make the development of players more efficient and also improve the pay and working conditions for players.
After the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the future was really looking bleak.
Major league teams like the Orioles provide the players and coaches for the minor leagues under affiliation agreements, and the Keys had been a farm team for the Orioles since 1989.
It looked as though the decision to sever the connection to the major league club would have effectively put our minor league team out of business. The economics of minor league baseball only work because the major league teams pay the players and coaches directly.
The economic impact of minor league baseball to a city like Frederick is huge. More than 270,000 people attended Keys games at Nymeo Field at the stadium in 2019, according to the city.
At that time, the team estimated its annual impact on the local economy at more than $15 million. It employed 25 full-time staff and 250 part-time workers.
The decision to include the Keys in the list of endangered teams in the first place remains puzzling and infuriating. This has been a thriving franchise, near enough to the parent club that fans could go to the major league stadium to follow the players that they cheered for in Frederick.
Some players and coaches have apparently been critical of the 30-year-old stadium, saying it does not provide all of the amenities of newer ballparks. But the Keys’ owners and the city, which owns the stadium, had offered to upgrade the structure.
So, the decision to end the Oriole affiliation and place the Keys in a lower, developmental league is disappointing. But not as disappointing as closing the franchise would have been.
Warm evenings at the ballpark will be filled with the sights and sounds of summer, and that is a relief. After a year of wondering what would become of our team, or even if a team would continue to play here, we now know that baseball will be back.
The Keys are one of six minor league teams that will join the new Draft League, which will feature players eligible to be drafted by a big-league team in July.
A 68-game regular season will run exclusively during warm-weather months, from late May to the middle of August. The players will include some highly touted prospects who will get the chance to showcase their skills for all 30 Major League teams.
Dedicated Keys’ fans like Jim and Amanda Addington, who have run a host-family program for minor league baseball players in Frederick, were disheartened by the news.
“My opinion is it was a bad day [for the Keys],” Jim Addington told News-Post reporter Greg Swatek. That is an understandable reaction from a superfan who attended almost every game. The Keys’ players in the past had already been drafted to play and were trying to get to the big leagues. Now, the players will be younger and many will be less talented, and will never be drafted.
But for many casual fans who just enjoy spending a few hours on a summer evening at the park eating a hot dog and sipping a beer, the news that baseball even in its diminished form will continue here was more welcome.