Suns safe in Hagerstown-this year

February 06, 1992|By Kent Baker

The Baltimore Orioles farm system will remain intact for the 1992 season, but assistant general manager Doug Melvin has not ruled out the possibility of an affiliate in Wilmington, Del., in the near future.

"We're not in desperate need of adding a club," Melvin said. "But we have talked to the Delaware people at the winter meetings on an informal basis. So far, they have no approval for a team, no ballpark, and whatever has been said obviously is premature."

The issue arose last week when a Wilmington public information official said that the city would get a team soon, and that the franchise could be the Class AA Hagerstown Suns. But Suns owner Peter Kirk and the Orioles denied the story.

Hagerstown is trying to retain its Class AA Eastern League team, but, Kirk said, renovating Municipal Stadium to meet that level's new facility standards will cost about $2 million. Upgrading the park for Class A baseball will demand about $500,000. The qualifications must be met for the 1994 season.

"We have a task force looking into this," said Kirk, who is also a member of the executive committee of the National Association (minor leagues). The task force includes Hagerstown Mayor Steve Sager and City Manager Steve Feller. "The city very much wants to be sure that it keeps a team."

Suns general manager Bob Miller said: "We aren't going anywhere. And everybody would like to salvage the AA club, but it cost a lot of money to run it. We're the smallest Class AA market. I know the Orioles have talked about another A club in Maryland and the Sally [South Atlantic] League would take us in a minute."

The population of Washington County, of which Hagerstown is the hub, is only 107,000. Fast-growing Frederick, where the Keys of the Class A Carolina League are breaking attendance records, draws from a base 2 1/2 times that size.

"Hagerstown is a very knowledgeable baseball town in a small area that is not in the best economic shape," Kirk said. "But we have an excellent relationship with the city and county, and we're going to do the best we can."

Melvin said: "We're interested in our clubs being close to Baltimore. We're very satisfied with Hagerstown and Frederick, but we'll review again at the end of this year. And we have talked about the South Atlantic League but nothing is definite."

Although he has had serious contact with the Delaware city, including a proposal for his real-estate company to develop land for a park (he was turned down), Kirk said Wilmington "is not one of the teams I'm likely to have an ownership interest in. No doubt in time Wilmington will get a minor-league team. It's a good candidate for Class AA expansion in 1994. But there was nothing to that recent story about Hagerstown."

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