Decision day is getting close for the future of the Frederick Keys (with update)

There will be an important decision coming soon that could impact the Orioles’ minor leagues: whether the Single-A Frederick Keys will continue to play in Frederick and at Harry Grove Stadium beyond this season.

The City of Frederick sought and received two requests for proposals that seek to be awarded the lease to play in that stadium in 2012. The Keys filed a request and so did the independent Atlantic League, through owner Peter Kirk.

The city will pick one of the two that filed requests for next year and attempt to negotiate a lease for play at Harry Grove Stadium in 2012 and maybe beyond.

Could all of this lead to the Keys being forced to leave Frederick? It could.

Right now, I am told a committee appointed by the City of Frederick is reviewing the two proposals and could pick a winner and announce that news any day. The Keys and their fans certainly hope they get picked over the Atlantic League. But no one I have talked with about this situation has any real knowledge of how to handicap this.

The Keys do have a player development contract with the Orioles through 2014. Presumably, if the Keys have to leave Frederick, they would play somewhere else next year and still be an O’s affiliate.

The Orioles wrote a letter on behalf of the Keys that was included with the Keys’ written request in the proposal to the city. The Keys have been an Orioles affiliate since 1989 and many fans have enjoyed going to games in Frederick to see Orioles prospects play there.

An Atlantic League team moving in would be an independent club, not affiliated with major league baseball and with no attachment to the Orioles.

Keys general manager Dave Ziedelis said he appreciates the Orioles’ support while he awaits the big decision.

“The Orioles have been very supportive. We’ve been an Orioles affiliate since day one in Frederick and we have a rich history and tradition and everyone would like to see that continue. Support from the Orioles certainly was an important and intrical aspect of our proposal,” Ziedelis said.

He added that you can’t quite put a dollar figure or a value on what being an O’s affiliate has meant to the Keys for the past 22 years.

“It’s about seeing Brian Matusz pitch here a week ago on a rehab assignment. It’s about saying I saw Nick Markakis play here and hit two home runs in an All-Star game in Frederick. Those types of memories are priceless,” Ziedelis said.

“I don’t know how many fans have mentioned to me that they saw Ben McDonald pitch at McCurdy Field in our first year (in 1989), the year before Harry Grove Stadium opened. You can’t put a value on those things. It’s like putting a value on your photo album.”

He has been trying to not let the uncertainty of the Keys’ future impact his staff during this season.

“We don’t let it get to us, quite frankly. We have a job to do. We are being as aggressive as we can with our marketing and promotion to deliver a fun and affordable family product to the residents of the greater Frederick area,” he said.

Ziedelis was not ready to say Monday whether Keys management is making any contingency plans for next year if the Keys lose out to the Atlantic League.

“I can’t really speak to that. Obviously, we are hoping things continue here in Frederick and that’s the way we are looking at it,” Ziedelis said.

I have said many times to many fans, that it would be very disappointing if the Keys were forced to leave Frederick. I am sure the Atlantic League is fun to watch and well-run, but the Keys are a Frederick sports treasure and have been since 1989. They are almost always among the best drawing teams in the Carolina League.

I have no idea which team the politicians of Frederick think would be better for their city or what the proposal means for each team in terms of dollars to the city. But I just hope they realize what that Keys franchise has meant to fans, not only of that area, but around the state.

The Keys belong in Frederick, this year and for many to come.

Two editorials published recently agree with my take.

Here is one from the Frederick News-Post.

Here is one from the Frederick Gazette.

Update: Thanks to reader Stouffer for pointing out this story in the Frederick News-Post. It appears the city has chosen the Keys in this battle and now will begin negotiating a new lease with the team. If the sides can agree on terms this could well mean the Keys stay in Frederick and that would be very good news.

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