FREDERICK -- Eventually, the Frederick Keys may wind up as the Double-A franchise that couldn't fly in neighboring, recession-wracked Hagerstown.
For now, they will have to be content with the Single-A Carolina League and immense popularity in their back yard.
"Let's just sit back and enjoy this right now," owner Peter Kirk said last night, as he viewed the team's home-opening, 6-1 victory over the Winston-Salem Spirits from the Keys Club atop Grove Stadium.
"This franchise probably has one of the best operations for community support in the nation. In my dream, which is to have the entire Orioles organization in Maryland, Frederick could be the Double-A team."
No one was booing city officials and team ownership during the pre-game ceremonies last night. They were in Hagerstown four days earlier in protest of the decision to leave the Eastern League rather than upgrade Municipal Stadium to meet the new Double-A facilities standards.
Everything is hunky-dory at Frederick, with a clean, intimate ballpark, a club level for the well-heeled and average attendance that approached 5,000 in 1991.
Kirk was not overly concerned about the lack of a sellout for the opener. "It's a cold night and school's not out yet," he said after 3,896 attended the game. "Once June gets here, things will be normal."
But general manager Keith Lupton didn't share that feeling.
"I'm a little disappointed in the crowd," said Lupton. "But this is the first Monday [to open] we've ever had. Usually, we open on a Thursday."
The plans for Frederick are basically additions. A picnic area is in the works. Additional concession stands will have to be completed to meet Double-A requirements.
"In Double-A there [Hagerstown], we continued to struggle and we'd always be looking over our shoulders," said Kirk. "But we want to be sure baseball stays in Hagerstown for many years to come.
"We're especially excited about the idea of making the new franchise community owned. That makes it impossible to move and sell."
The Keys, Carolina League champions two summers ago, are striving to bounce back from a season in which they finished fourth in both halves.
In their 1992 home debut, left fielder Steve Godin stole the show with the first inside-the-park home run in the three years of Grove Stadium's existence.
It was a three-run shot that broke open a 2-1 game in the eighth inning, as the Keys evened their record at 2-2.
"I feel real good right now. I struggled early last year, but now I'm going well," said Godin, who also had an RBI double and is hitting .375. "The last game [3-for-4] got me started. This is my first inside-the-park homer since Little League."
The homer off Amilcar Correa followed walks to Greg Zaun and Brad Tyler and lifted Frederick into a four-run cushion.