Double-A team may play briefly at Memorial Stadium

November 14, 1992|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

Memorial Stadium, a ballpark in search of a baseball game since the Orioles departed in October 1991, might be getting a team again.

But only briefly.

The owner of Maryland's newest minor-league team -- a yet-to-be-named Double-A team that will be an Orioles affiliate -- says he is exploring the possibility of moving his team to Baltimore next season.

"The lights are there, the scoreboard is there. It's something we'll look into closely over the next month or so," said Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which owns the new team and the Single-A Frederick Keys.

At most, Kirk said, he'd only be interested in moving the team to Memorial Stadium for a fraction of the season. Eventually, the new franchise will settle into a $9 million stadium under construction at the intersection of routes 50 and 301 in Bowie.

Initially, Kirk and the team's other owners had hoped to be playing in the new ballpark when the season begins next April. But a series of delays has raised doubts about whether the ballpark will be ready.

If it isn't, Kirk said, the team could spend some time at one of a handful of local ballparks, including fields at the University of Maryland and Bowie State, RFK Stadium in Washington or at Memorial Stadium.

Kirk said he hoped to meet soon with Orioles officials to discuss whether they would support a plan to temporarily move the team, which will play in the Eastern League. About two weeks ago, he broached the idea in a letter to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

The mayor has notified City Council members of the team's interest and is seeking input from the stadium's neighbors, who would be most affected by the fans that a minor-league team might attract, said Clint Coleman, a spokesman for Schmoke.

"He thinks it makes sense, but he hasn't given Mr. Kirk a final answer, pending discussions between the city and neighborhood groups," Coleman said.

Coleman said he had no estimates of what it might cost to restore the playing field or make other improvements that might be needed before a baseball team could move in, including an essential one: Removing goal posts put in for this past summer's NFL preseason game.

Orioles officials said they needed to hear more from Kirk before deciding whether they'd welcome a minor-league competitor about three miles from their ballpark.

"So far, the conversations about Memorial Stadium have just been in sort of a joking way. But if Peter feels his ballpark obviously won't be ready, we'll take it more seriously," said Doug Melvin, Orioles assistant general manager.

"Memorial is an obvious one because it's available and it's there," Kirk said. "But we're going to work very closely with the Orioles on this. Obviously, it's a decision that affects them as much as us."

The presence of a minor-league team in Baltimore wouldn't figure to erode Orioles attendance -- the inaugural season at Camden Yards ended with record attendance and 59 consecutive sellouts. But the Orioles might be powerful competition for the Double-A team, particularly on dates when both teams play at home.

That could be an especially thorny problem in April. Of the minor-league team's 12 home games that month, eight fall on dates when the Orioles are scheduled to play at Camden Yards.

Kirk said he hoped it didn't come to that.

"We still have an outside chance of being ready for Opening Day in Bowie. That would be best," he said.

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