01 February 2011

Could we wind up rooting for the Kinston Orioles?

A couple days ago I tweeted news of the Frederick Keys going up for sale and the team signing another one year lease on Harry Grove Stadium.  The American Chronicle has a good article for you to read here in full.  Briefly, the Keys do not like the terms the city is putting forth and has stalled on a contract.  They are now on a one year term at $30,000.  It was not mentioned what the two sides are negotiating, but that they have been unable to come to any agreeable terms.  The city has asked for $50,000 and it was rumored that the Keys ownership countered with a value just short of $30,000.  Either figure would be an increase from their last long term lease where they were paying $17,000 a year until 2009.  This situation has now come to a head and the city is planning to issue a request for proposal.  As I understand this, it means that different entities will be allowed to bid for use of Harry Grove Stadium and this is where it gets interesting.

The original owner of the Keys and builder of Harry Grove Stadium, Peter Kirk, is angling to get back into the Frederick market.  This time it is not as an owner as he is the owner of the York Revolution.  Instead, he wishes to put a second Independent Atlantic League team in Frederick with the help of Reston, VA real estate lawyer Jack Lavoie.  This arrangement was reported in the York Daily Record.  The city of Frederick looks to be in the driving seat for this one.  Frederick is a solid market that averaged 4585 fans per game in 2009.  Only the Wilmington Blue Rocks drew more.  The Orioles AA team, the Bowie Baysox drew 3810.  In fact, Frederick outdrew eighteen of thirty AA teams and three of thirty AAA teams.  Frederick is a great market and the Atlantic League knows it.  The Keys ownership (or the new ownership) will need to increase their offer if they want to avoid being evicted after the 2011 season.

Where could the Orioles single A franchise go?  After the jump, I'll look at three scenarios, some are likely alternatives and others are wishful thinking.

1. Kinston, NC
Kinston is probably the most likely destination.  After this season, their baseball stadium will be empty.  Kinston's Carolina League team is moving over to Zebulon.  Kinston has been running at a loss, close to it, for years.  They average roughly 1800 in attendance per year, which would be incredibly noticeable for any player who manages to repeat 2012 with the club.  Kinston might prove to be the best of a bad situation where the Orioles lay in wait for a season or two until a better option becomes available.

2. Promote Aberdeen Ironbirds to HiA ball
I am uncertain if the stadium meets requirements for a HiA stadium, but assume that only a small amount of tweaking would be needed.  Under this scenario, Aberdeen gets rewarded for their amazing support of their short season A ball team.  In 2009, they averaged 6,502 fans per game.  This would give the Orioles a great place to send veterans on rehab, provide a location close to Baltimore that is easy to scout and provide instruction, and give Aberdeen more baseball to watch.  In turn, a new location would need to be found for the short season ball.  My three suggestions here would not be great, but would work in the short term.  First, they could replace the Oneonta, NY team.  It was abandoned by the Tigers and is a horrible draw with an average attendance under 700 people per game.  The second suggestion would be to have the team play at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, NY.  I think the draw would be minimal as well there, but may give the Orioles more exposure playing next to the Hall of Fame.  My last idea, I think, is grand.  The short season A team should try to set up shop in Montreal.  Bring baseball back to that neglected city.  The weather would be ideal as short season teams do not have to deal with the chilly Aprils and Mays.  It may also help bring back what was once a vibrant baseball community.

3. Harrisburg, PA
I have no idea what the relationship is between the Nationals and Harrisburg.  However, Harrisbrug is one of the worst draws in AA.  It is a location that is prime for being abandoned to a lower rung of the Nationals could find a better opportunity.  It would not be surprising if they made a stab for Frederick, to be honest.  The location would not be ideal for any other AA team to consider them outside of the Blue Jays who may wish to relocate their team from Las Vegas to the East Coast.  The city has been promising to renovate the stadium, but has been waiting on state monies to drop into the coffers to help pay for the project.  Promises may not be useful for a AA franchise.  If no takers are present, the Keys may be able to slide into that stadium.

I think they wind up in Kinston, NC.  It is going to be an empty stadium that is currently in the same league as the Keys.  It would easily be the path of least resistance.  A move to Aberdeen would require some effort in rearranging the games and clinics that take place there and would also requiring finding a home for the short season team somewhere in the overly exploited Northeastern US market.  Finally, I have no idea whether the Nationals can pull their team out of Harrisburg.  Contracts might be difficult to wiggle out of and the promise of a renovated stadium may lure someone like the Blue Jays who might want to rearrange their organization more locally.

Additional Articles

Ballpark Digest - Frederick to put ballpark lease to bid; Keys on market
This article actually precedes mine by a day.  It is a very good article that has some interesting figures (10MM for the Keys and 16MM for the Baysox).  They also bring up the possibility of a team moving to Wilmington, NC . . . which I brought up in the comments.  Check out that publication, I am going to look to them in the future for some of these items.  Good find for me!

Steve Melewski - Wondering whether we should be concerned about the Keys' future in Frederick
Melewski gives a quick run down of the already available information, but adds a couple more things.  The Orioles and Keys are contracted together through 2014.  I'm not exactly sure what this means.  These sprt of argeements typically have escape clauses buried somewhere.  I imagine a parent club would be annoyed if a team was acting irresponsible and gets shut out of a facility.  Melewski was also able to interview some of his contacts with the Keys.  They preferred to not give any comment on situation.  That makes sense.  Melewski also commented that the Keys moving out of Frederick is extremely unlikely.


duck said...

Why not promote Delmarva? Stadium can hold 8K.

Jon Shepherd said...

That could also work and the lowA team culd take up residence in Kinston, which might make a lot more geographic sense.

Maybe that would also pave the way for putting a team into Wilmington NC as a LowA club.