Wondering whether we should be concerned about the Keys' future in Frederick

Here is something I didn't think I'd have to ponder and write about it. It is possible that the Frederick Keys, the Orioles' Single-A Carolina League affiliate, could leave town after this season and move somewhere else? I would guess that is a real long shot, and it's probably too soon to get alarmed, but right now the team and city of Frederick seem locked in a dispute over money and how much the team should pay the city to lease Harry Grove Stadium. Frederick Mayor Randy McClement told the Frederick News-Post via e-mail that the city will soon issue a request for proposals for the lease for the 2012 season. That means basically the city would take bids from anyone that has a team that wants to play in that facility for 2012 and maybe beyond. Peter Kirk, who owns three Atlantic League teams and owned the Keys until 2001, appears to have serious interest in bidding on the lease and presumably wants to move an Atlantic League team to Frederick. Could all this lead to the Keys getting booted out of town? It could. As for the Orioles, they have a player development contract with the Keys' franchise through 2014. So, wherever the Keys play, they will be playing as an O's affiliate at least through that 2014 season. If a new team moved into Frederick next season, it would not be as an O's affiliate and quite possibly would not even be as an affiliate with any big league team, as Atlantic League clubs are independent. This is all confusing, messy and complicated. You want another complication? Keys' owner Ken Young is reportedly interested in selling the Keys and the Double-A Bowie Baysox. Some speculate that he wouldn't want to sign a new lease with Frederick while he waits to see if someone buys the Keys. The Keys' lease for 2011, signed a few weeks ago, runs through only September of this year. No one in top management with the Keys seems to want to comment right now on this situation. One Keys staffer did emphasize to me that the club wants to stay in Frederick for many years to come. The Keys have consistently been among the top drawing teams in the Carolina League and everyone in the game knows Frederick is one solid and successful minor league market. The Keys and Frederick have been good for each other. If I am taking sides here, it would be with the Keys. They need to stay in Frederick and right now their future uncertainty can't be good for fans of the team, not to mention Keys' employees that must be wondering what their futures could hold. For O's fans, this all should have little or no impact on the players on the 2011 Keys. They have their on field play to take care of and this doesn't involve them. The Keys and Orioles will remain together, at least through 2014. It is a great situation for the Orioles to have a solid affiliate that draws so well, so close to home. I would guess that a big reason for the Keys' success at the turnstile is the O's connection and that an independent league team would not draw as well or create as much interest. I once worked in radio in Frederick and that is a baseball-crazy community that supports its youth leagues and has supported the Keys very well since their first season in 1989. Every year, minor league teams move to different cities and towns for various reasons. Some of those are completely justified. But, as far as I can tell, the Keys playing anywhere other than Frederick is a very bad idea. This story on the Keys' lease situation recently appeared in the Frederick paper.

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