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Baltimore Orioles

As Frederick waits for return of affiliated baseball, the city will settle for a name for its newest team

FREDERICK — The city of Frederick and the owners of its newest baseball team announced on Monday that they will hold a fan submission contest to name the club. Mayor Michael O’Connor doesn’t plan to make any suggestions himself.

“I am most interested in the name on the front of the jerseys,” O’Connor said. “Frederick is what matters to me. I could come up with a thousand lousy ideas, but just the fact that it’s going to be in Frederick is what excites me.”

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Two years after the Keys lost their official ties to the Orioles after a three-decade partnership, Frederick is still hopeful for the return of an affiliated minor league organization. But in 2023, the city will be one of few in the country featuring multiple professional baseball teams, with the Keys, now a member of the Major League Baseball Draft League, being joined by a to-be-named member of the independent Atlantic League.

Both O’Connor and Greg Baroni, the CEO of Attain Sports and Entertainment — which owns both the Keys and the Atlantic League team, as well as the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate in Bowie — said the city’s return to affiliated status could take three to five years, likely requiring a ballpark to replace the 33-year-old Harry Grove Stadium, which will host both Frederick teams in 2023, and one of MLB’s 30 franchises to have an opening. After the canceled 2020 minor league season, MLB limited each organization to four full-season affiliates, with the Orioles losing the Keys, their High-A affiliate for 31 years, and retaining clubs in Salisbury, Aberdeen, Bowie and Norfolk, Virginia.

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Attain Sports and Entertainment CEO Greg Baroni speaks at a news conference announcing the city’s new Atlantic League team will be named via a submission contest.

The Keys had a relatively soft landing compared to most of the more than 40 minor league teams that lost their MLB ties, joining a handful of others to form the Draft League, which features a mix of amateurs and young players who recently completed their college eligibility. But the move led to a reduction in the number of games hosted in Frederick. By adding a team in the Atlantic League — which features more experienced players than the Draft League and has often been a test site for new MLB rules — the city will have more games than when it was affiliated with the Orioles.s, with Andrew Klein, who will serve as the general manager of both Frederick teams, noted that will allow for more community engagement.

The team-naming contest is perhaps the strongest example yet. Those interested can submit ideas online until Jan. 27, with a group of finalists announced on Feb. 6 ahead of a voting process. The fan with the winning submission will receive a team jersey, the chance to throw out a first pitch and two season tickets, and all others who offer a suggestion will be put into a drawing for two more.

Chuck Domino, announced Monday as Attain’s senior vice president of baseball operations, said one of his first acts in pursuit of a name for Frederick’s Atlantic League team was contacting Brandiose. He had previously worked with the branding company to name several minor league teams, including the Richmond Flying Squirrels, Lehigh Valley IronPigs, Hartford Yard Goats and Rocket City Trash Pandas.

“This is where the fun of minor league baseball comes into play,” Domino said. “Now, you hear those names, probably some of you are scratching your heads and saying, ‘Oh no.’ I can tell you, you have to have thick skin when you go through this process.

“There’s gonna be some crazy names that get entered into the contest. We will keep an open mind to all of them.”

The logos for Attain Sports and Entertainment, the Atlantic League and the to-be-named Frederick team.

Domino, who has four decades of experience in professional baseball, said those teams saw increases in attendance, received honors for their logos and had improved marketability after the rebranding experiences. The Keys led their league in attendance in 2019, their final affiliated season, and Klein said the team averaged only nine fewer fans per game in the Draft League in 2022.

“We certainly were not excited to hear that Major League Baseball was contracting,” O’Connor said. “While we always believed that Frederick was the best location for a minor league baseball team that Major League Baseball had — I think it was proven by attendance — we understand that attendance wasn’t the metric that they were using. When they made the commitment to put a Draft League team in Frederick, what that told me was Major League Baseball is still interested in us, and we’re definitely still interested in minor league baseball.

“This is just one more step in that to demonstrate that we’re a great community that will support baseball.”

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The city recognizes a new ballpark is needed to meet MLB’s standards and is deciding where to construct one, with O’Connor saying, “I don’t think we can upgrade the existing stadium.” Instead, a determination is being made as to whether to build a new facility at the current site or elsewhere. Baroni referenced a bill passed last year that approved the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue up to $200 million “to fund the development and/or renovations of sports entertainment facilities across the state including minor league ballparks where renovations will be necessary in order to maintain affiliations with major league teams and continue to play in our state.”

“Everything takes longer than I wish it did,” O’Connor said. “But you just have to go through each step.”

Both O’Connor and Greg Baroni, the CEO of Attain Sports and Entertainment, said Frederick's return to affiliated status could take three to five years, likely requiring a ballpark to replace the 33-year-old Harry Grove Stadium, which will host both Frederick teams in 2023, and one of MLB’s 30 franchises to have an opening.

Baroni echoed that point, repeatedly calling the process of bringing an affiliated team back to Frederick a “journey” and referring to the addition of an Atlantic League team as part of that. He joked he would have a “bias” toward the team having an orange and black color scheme, matching the Orioles, but acknowledged that will largely be dictated by the chosen name. He also wasn’t shy about his desire to have Frederick again host one of Baltimore’s affiliates, though he was clear it wouldn’t come at the expense of the one Attain already owns.

The same day it was announced that Frederick would be joining the Atlantic League in November, the Baysox announced a 10-year lease to continue playing at Bowie’s Prince George’s Stadium. Baroni said he hopes to help that community maintain its affiliated status in the same way he plans to work to regain that of Frederick.

“I will say that I do have targets,” Baroni said. “It’s just not Bowie.”

He was noncommittal on how long the Keys and the Atlantic League team might co-exist in Frederick, saying, “For us, it’s let’s see how it goes.” Klein noted that the Atlantic League team’s first manager, Mark Minicozzi, led one of the league’s two teams in Lexington, Kentucky, last year, and the ballpark and clubhouse staffs will also be prepared for the logistical challenges that might come out of having two teams share the stadium. He believes the community will embrace it, too.

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“There are always going to be a couple of fans who are diehard Orioles or [Washington] Nationals or whoever it may be, and therefore not having that affiliation is going to mean something to them,” Klein said. “But at the end of the day, we’re giving them the best baseball that we’re able to provide at this moment, and we’re working towards getting back to the affiliated ball.”


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