THE BUSH LEAGUE Nation's No. 1 fan shows he knows his way around the minors too


FREDERICK -- After waiting longer than usual to gain admittance to Harry Grove Stadium here Saturday night, a lady with two young children in tow went searching for someone with authority.

"Are you the general manager?" she asked Keith Lupton.

"Yes, ma'am," replied the GM of the Frederick Keys, the Orioles' Single A farm club.

"Well, I'm never coming to another game in this park," the lady informed Lupton. "I've been waiting in line to get in here for 45 minutes. Is it like this all the time?"

"No ma'am," replied Lupton, "only when the president comes."

"President who?"

"President Bush."

"The President of the United States? He's coming here?"

"Yes ma'am," said Lupton as he watched the processing of a record crowd of 7,912 spectators. It was that kind of a night.

Instead of the normal four gates, there were two electronic devices, much like those in airports, which everyone entering the park had to pass through. All carry-in luggage had to pass inspection.

For the early arrivals, it was obvious that something special was about to take place at Grove Stadium. A large area of the parking lot was cordoned off and the mounting security was enough evidence that this was not going to be a normal Carolina League game.

Inside, Keys officials paced in anxious anticipation. "I'm worried that my food is going to get cold before I can get anybody in here to eat it," said Mark Thome, director of the Keys Club, surveying lines that extended to both ends of the parking lot.

This wasn't the first time the Keys had gone through this.

A year ago, while en route to Camp David, President Bush made a surprise visit to Hagerstown, where he stopped to watch the Orioles' Double A farm team play. That appearance came after only 45 minutes notice from the authorities.

The rumor was that Bush was going to stop in Frederick after playing golf at nearby Holly Hills, but rain interrupted his plans, and he went farther up I-70 instead. "I got a call here about 6:45 [last year] and was told to get to Hagerstown right away," said Peter Kirk, one of three owners and the CEO of the Keys and Suns.

"I asked them why they wanted me in Hagerstown," said Kirk, "and the answer was 'I can't tell you -- but there are two guys on the [stadium] roof with rifles.' "

The 1991 Suns' game program features a cover picture of Bush taken during his visit to Hagerstown.

There was a little more notice this time, though news of the president's visit was kept remarkably quiet until the gates opened Saturday night. Hugh Schindler and Terry Randall, the other co-owners of the Keys and Suns, along with Carolina League president John Hopkins and Sal Artiago, commissioner of the minor leagues, were all in attendance.

Bush arrived shortly after the scheduled 7:35 starting time, but pre-game activity was curtailed until after he was seated in the Keys' private sky box just to the right of home plate. "We heard that he wanted to come on the field," Frederick manager Wally Moon said after the 8-1 loss to Durham. "But the Secret Service people talked him out of it. Still, it was quite an honor for these kids to be able to play in front of him."

Once he arrived at the stadium, accompanied by his grandson, Bush moved quickly through the crowd, acknowledging an enthusiastic reception. Obviously enjoying himself, he sat outside the Keys' box in the club seat level, where he remained until 9:30 p.m.

Among those who sat with the president for a few innings were Mr. and Mrs. Harry Grove, who provided the final $250,000 to build the stadium that carries the family name.

"He really seemed to enjoy himself," said Kirk, "and he's a very down-to-earth person. He actually apologized for imposing on us. 'But it's such a nice night, I thought I'd like to go to a game with my grandson,' " Kirk said the president said.

The most surprising thing about the visit was the timing. President Bush had spent a good part of the afternoon shielded by bullet-proof glass during the mammoth parade honoring Desert Storm troops.

On top of it all, Saturday was Mrs. Bush's birthday, and she stayed behind at Camp David. "If I had known it was going to be this good, I would have talked Barbara into coming," the president told Kirk.

When the night was over and the apprehensions a thing of the past, the Keys had a chance to reflect on what had taken place. "It was a great honor to have him come watch us play," said Kirk.

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