OH SAY CAN YOU SEE?
I promised I’d come back and post about Frederick before leaving for my next road trip to Alabama, and since I’m leaving tomorrow, well, here I am!
I figured that just because a stadium/city is virtually in my backyard, that’s no reason to overlook them in our Travelblogue …
First, some background on my weirdly complicated relationship with Frederick and the Keys …
Way back in the paleolithic era when I started covering the Minor Leagues (1989 to be exact), I was the beat writer for the Prince William Cannons in the Carolina League (they were the Yankees then and have since gone through the White Sox, Cardinals, Reds and now are the Potomac Nationals). I covered the team from 1989 through the first month of 1992 …
1989 was also the first year of existence for the Frederick (Md.) Keys, who had moved down from Hagerstown. Harry Grove Stadium was still under construction so for that first year they played their games at McCurdy Field, an American Legion field … I don’t know the exact dimensions but I am not exaggerating that much when I say it was about 250 feet down the lines and the bleachers held maybe 2,000 people (which is why it was really interesting when they listed a capacity crowd of 8,000 when Orioles first-rounder Ben McDonald pitched there late in the season but that’s another story). Bandbox? Just ask Jack Voigt, the team’s outfielder that year who one night hit for what they called the "jumbo cycle" (they made it up on the spot) … double, triple, homer and grand slam. I think the only Cannons pitcher to get him out that night was Gerald Williams. Yeah, the outfielder.
Anyway, with the two teams both located in bedroom communities of DC off the Beltway, there was a huge rivalry between the two Booster Clubs. Not the teams themselves, I don’t think … I suspect the players had enough on their minds trying to work their way into the parent club’s plans not to really care about who they were playing. But the Booster Clubs HATED each other.
So when I moved from Virginia to Maryland in 1994, no longer covering the Cannons and certainly not wanting to deal with Beltway traffic at rush hour, I suddenly found myself with Frederick as my local team. And for a brief time I felt sort of disloyal and weird about it.
But I got over it.
You can’t help but get goosebumps when the National Anthem is sung there, since the team is named for Francis Scott Key who not only wrote the anthem (about a battle that took place in Baltimore), but is also buried in the cemetery you’ll see when you pull into the parking lot.
When Harry Grove Stadium opened in 1990, it was really state of the art in many ways. It was one of the first (if not THE first) to have the open concourse where fans could go up, buy a hot dog or a beer, and not miss any of the action. It had that big walkdown-bowl rather than steps up. It was more beige concrete than the old-time red brick which would become the next de rigeur "thing" in ballpark design, but it was very nice and clean and fan-friendly. It even had a carousel in right field for the kids! (And having a 4-year-old when we moved up there, that was a real plus).
Still, with new parks being built left and right in the last 17 years, and more being refurbished, Harry Grove was starting to look its age the last few years. There were field problems that dated back to construction that really took their toll last year when the field was such a muckslide during the Carolina League finals that the owners had to hire a helicopter to dry it out to make it playable, just hours before first pitch.
But this year things are definitely looking up … for one thing, they installed a completely new field that looks gorgeous! AND they installed new reserved seats between first and third base behind the box seats … where there were once uncomfortable benches, they now have royal blue seats with backs (we paleolithic types LOVE good back support) …
Thanks to new ownership group Comcast I have heard there are more improvements in the works (though we all know that bureaucracy and red tape takes time to cut through) … but it’s just that much nicer now to come out to Keys game and enjoy the on-field product and the off-field niceties.
In addition, the changes to Frederick itself have been many and all positive. The city has developed a great "Old Town" area downtown with wonderful restaurants, pubs, antique malls and other great shopping opportunities. Two of my personal favorites include a great vintage store, Venus on the Half Shell, where I could browse for hours (especially the vintage sweaters and prom dresses), and a store right nearby it that sells all sorts of British delicacies (though I wish they’d stock Mingles chocolates!)
The city also hosts all sorts of great concert series and craft fairs … there is never a lack for something to do (one of my favorite nights was getting to see one of my all-time favorite bands, NRBQ, at Baker Park FOR FREE in the first row! And another was bringing my daughter to see America at the Frederick Crafts Fair the week we moved there)
If you’re putting together an east coast road trip, definitely add Frederick to your itinerary … if you’re a history buff, it’s less than a half-hour to Gettysburg and 45 minutes to Washington DC and Baltimore.