Though the Frederick Keys lost their affiliation with the Baltimore Orioles, Keys owner Ken Young is hopeful his team can remain connected to the Orioles in other ways and is optimistic the new MLB Draft League will provide the community with high-quality baseball.
The Keys have been the High-A affiliate of the Orioles since 1989 and have played at Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium since 1990. Young says he’s spoken to Orioles executives Mike Elias and Greg Bader as well as director of minor-league operations Kent Qualls about how the two parties can continue to work together.
Young says the Keys will likely keep its classic orange-and-black color scheme at least for 2021, the first season of the MLB Draft League.
“The Orioles are hugely high on the Frederick market, and they want that to continue to be an Orioles market,” Young said on Glenn Clark Radio Dec. 15. “The Orioles will work with us in this draft league. They still want Frederick and Nymeo Field to be Birdland. I think you will see — and the fans will see — a lot of Orioles placement and other areas that you’ll see an association with the Orioles.”
“I think that association between the fans, the community and the Orioles is an extremely important one to all of those parties involved, and it’s important to us, too,” Young added. “I really believe that we will work to keep that and so will the Orioles.”
The MLB Draft League will be a wood-bat league for draft-eligible prospects seeking exposure to MLB clubs just before the draft. The 68-game season will run from late May to mid-August, with a built-in break for the draft. The draft, which had been held in June, will now take place during the MLB All-Star break in July.
The league currently has six teams: the Keys, Trenton Thunder, Mahoning Valley Scrappers, State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears and Williamsport Crosscutters — all franchises that have lost their affiliation with their previous big-league club due to MLB’s contraction of the minor leagues. MLB and the Prep Baseball Report will assign players to the six teams prior to the start of the season. More details can be found here.
“We’re going to see the best players there are who will be future major leaguers,” Young said. “It might take them three or four years to get to the major leagues, I will tell you that, and we’re not going to know what clubs they’re necessarily going to be with when they do get drafted and so forth. We’re going to see quality baseball, but more than anything we’re going to see these guys as they’re months away from turning professional.”
Young said when the Keys were first rumored to be part of minor-league contraction in 2019, he didn’t believe it because Frederick is such a great community for baseball. In 2019, the Keys ranked second in the Carolina League in attendance by drawing 263,528 fans to Harry Grove, an average of 4,392 fans per game. From 2012-2017, the Keys drew more than 300,000 fans each season.
The owner said MLB decided to contract Frederick because “the park just wasn’t up to the guidelines that were necessary,” but he believes improvements can be made to Harry Grove Stadium to make Frederick a viable destination for affiliated baseball in the future. But for now, Young is committed to maintaining baseball in Frederick through the MLB Draft League.
“People go to the ballpark for a lot of reasons. Obviously baseball is one of the major reasons, but they go to socialize. They go to begin traditions. They go to see fireworks and get giveaways and all of the things that make it fun to be there,” Young said. “Well, I can tell you that if anything, that will continue to be enhanced — obviously not quite as many games but they’re during a much better weather period of the year.”
Young is also the owner of the Triple-A Norfolk Tides and Double-A Bowie Baysox. Both franchises remain under the Orioles’ umbrella, as do the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds and High-A Aberdeen IronBirds. (The IronBirds were previously a Short-A team, but the New York-Penn League was shut down as part of contraction.)
Young believes contracting the minor leagues was “short-sighted” because the minor leagues help create fans of baseball for life.
“I think that losing some of those outposts — and you can begin to pick them off when you look at the list — maybe they only drew 100,000 or 150,000 people for 35 games, but you know what? That was something that kept those people interested in the game,” Young said. “I think future generations, too. It gets hurt a little bit when you don’t have something like that to cheer for.”
For more from Young, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Bowie Baysox