The Frederick Keys have a new logo, a new manager, 12 players who spent time with the team last season, and three Maryland natives on the roster.
Keys manager Dave Machemer, who guided Delmarva to the playoffs two years ago, figures he has an advantage he didn't possess last summer when he underwent a rocky season while managing at Rochester.
"I know what the younger kids are all about," Machemer said. "I spent the whole spring in minor-league camp this time and it helped me get to know my players better. Last year, I was at the major-league camp."
Frederick launches the season tonight at Wilmington, Del., with the familiarity factor looming large. Machemer has a contingent of team members who were Shorebirds under him and enough sprinkling of prospects to make for an interesting club.
His lead starter, Jay Spurgeon, was 11-3 in 1998 at Delmarva, before slowing down with the Keys. "He threw well in spring training and had a good chance to make Bowie but got caught up in the numbers," Machemer said.
The Nos. 2 and 3 pitchers were bulwarks for the Shorebirds last season, with John Stephens winning the organization's Pitcher of the Year award after leading the minors with 217 strikeouts. Juan Guzman, a converted catcher, has a good arm and challenging style.
Steve Bechler and veteran Matt Achilles round out the rotation, and Machemer will have Hagerstown native Derek Brown, who had 34 saves two years ago, back as his closer.
"We've also got Aaron Rakers and Rodney Ormond to close if need be. I feel pretty good there," Machemer said.
The one snag is that the Keys do not have a left-handed pitcher.
Other Marylanders on the club are Frederick's own Joey Hammond, who will start at third base, and Severna Park's Matt Griswold, who hit a combined .286 with 30 RBIs in 50 games at Gulf Coast and Bluefield.
League: Single-A Carolina
General manager: Joe Pinto
Manager: Dave Machemer
Stadium: Harry Grove
Directions to stadium: Take I-70 west to Exit 54, Market Street. A left off the exit, then the second left.
Game times: Monday through Saturday, 7: 05 p.m.; Sundays, 1: 05 p.m.; July 4, 4: 05 p.m.
Ticket Prices: Field box, $11; reserved box, $9; adult general admission, $8; children 6 to 12, senior citizens and military personnel, $5.
Radio: WXTR (820 AM)