With the Single-A Frederick Keys currently playing for the Carolina League championship, some people have fond memories of the 2007 Keys’ team. The last Frederick team to win the Carolina League championship.
Among them is Orioles’ pitcher Jason Berken, a starting pitcher on that Frederick team.
“We started off really slow,” Berken said of that Frederick squad. “I think we were one of the worst teams in the first half. But, luckily, each halves’ winner goes to the playoffs and we won the second half.
“We got hot at the right time. I think our starting pitching at that time was really good. Chorye Spoone was going really good. We had myself, we had (Brad) Bergesen, we had (David) Hernandez. Us four guys started in the playoffs.
“I don’t want to discredit our hitters, but our pitching was pretty good that year and it carried us. Toward the end there, Spoone was really hot and he pitched really, really well.
“It was a fun team. Tommy Thompson was our manager and kept it really light. We had a lot of fun. We snuck into the playoffs with a record under .500, but just got hot and I don’t think we lost a game in the playoffs. For my first full year in the minor leagues, it was really cool,” Berken said.
Actually, that Frederick team had identical 32-37 records in each half, winning the first half to qualify for the post-season. So, even with an overall record of 64-74 they won the championship.
Berken went 9-9 with an ERA of 4.53 in 26 starts. He finished third in the league in strikeouts behind teammates Hernandez and Spoone.
“We still bring up stories all the time about Frederick. That is something we’ll never forget. Anytime you win a championship, whether it be high school, college, professionally, hopefully a World Series some day. I’ll always remember that.
“Looking back, some of my fondest memories are of that team. It was my first full season. My first real taste of pro baseball and to win a championship was pretty cool,” Berken said Wednesday in the O’s clubhouse.
That Frederick team had just two players make the All-Star game in Blake Davis and pitcher Bob McCrory and Ryan Finan was the Keys’ only post-season All-Star.
But in the end, they won a title and got rings.
“To me, it was huge,” Berken said. “I pitched about a month in Aberdeen after I signed the year before. For me, it was pitching to contact and learning how to pitch inside. In college, you pitch away from contact with the aluminum bats.
“For me, early in the year, I struggled because I didn’t know how to pitch inside. But as the year went on, I started to figure out more and more what I needed to do at that level and looking back, that was a huge step for me and my career. It was a real important year for my career.”
Bergesen and Spoone picked up wins as Frederick beat Wilmington, two games to none in the first-round that year. In the clincher, Spoone was one out away from the first no-hitter in Carolina Leaue playoff history, but gave up a homer.
Frederick beat Salem 3-1 in the best-of-five Mills Cup finals. Berken feels it is important to win at the minor league level.
“I think it has to be. I know the biggest thing is developing players, but I think when you play that many games, you are with the same guys for a long time and winning is fun.
“Everybody plays better when they are winning. It makes the year go by faster. I think you would be doing your team and yourself an injustice by not taking pride in winning at the minor league level.
“If you win down there, it makes you that much hungrier to win up here. It was important for me and lot of guys on that team,” Berken said.