Bowie's new team looks for home away from home Stadium won't be ready by April

December 20, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer Staff writer Mark Hyman contributed to this article.

The only sure thing about Maryland's newest minor-league baseball franchise in Bowie is that it will need a home for at least half a season -- and possibly longer.

Groundbreaking at Bowie's $9 million stadium at the intersection of routes 50 and 301 has been delayed, and even if details among the team, city and Prince George's County are worked out in the near future, the facility would not be ready in time for an April opening.

"We're looking at June or July. That's the best we're going to do," said Peter Kirk, chairman of Maryland Baseball Limited Partnership, which owns the team.

So, Bowie's Double-A Eastern League club may well be a traveling show at home for the first three months of 1993.

Kirk and his associates are investigating other sites, and the possibility exists that the team could play at more than one facility before the permanent settlement comes.

On the list are Memorial Stadium, RFK Stadium in Washington, the University of Maryland, and Grove Stadium, home of the Frederick Keys, which Kirk's group also owns.

A decision on this front was deferred because of baseball's winter meetings last week. Kirk hopes to determine where the team will play before the end of the year.

Frederick seems the most logical and least expensive option, but Kirk said the prospects there are limited.

"We could do that right at the beginning because we've arranged schedules so that Bowie and the [Single-A] Keys are not at home the same time during the first two homestands," he said.

"If the [Bowie] stadium was like a month late, that would be fine. But we can't keep that going long enough. It is possible that we'll play a couple of games there."

Where the home games for the succeeding months will be

played depend on talks between Kirk and officials at the prospective sites.

"We're working with them," said Doug Melvin, assistant general manager of the Orioles, Bowie's major-league affiliate. "There is still consideration with Memorial Stadium. We just need to sit down some time in the near future and make a decision."

Said Kirk: "The problem [with Memorial Stadium] is not with the Orioles. We're doing this with their complete cooperation and support. It's a matter of working out details with the league and the city."

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said last week that he had spoken several weeks ago with Kirk, and that the team owner had volunteered "to meet with community groups and the City Council" to discuss the use of Memorial Stadium.

For his part, Schmoke said he hoped the team would play in Baltimore.

"There are so many fans in this area," he said. "On those few days where there is overlap, I don't think it will have a negative impact on Oriole Park."

Schmoke added that the use of Memorial Stadium would involve "minimal costs" to the city. "Anything above what we are now contributing to maintaining the place, [Kirk] will absorb," Schmoke said.

The University of Maryland is attractive because it is located near Bowie in the same county, and Kirk has a good relationship with athletic director Andy Geiger and baseball coach Tom Bradley.

But Shipley Field, home of the Terrapins, seats only 2,000 people and lights would have to be installed for night games. In addition, the field itself is small and would favor hitters.

As for RFK Stadium, "it is my understanding the field would only be available for the first half of the season because of their commitments later," said Kirk. That is still a viable option if Bowie is assured of having its stadium completed in the quickest time now possible.

The thorny problem could have been avoided altogether had Kirk's group stuck with its original plan for a team in Bowie in 1994.

A lease had been signed with Wilmington, Del., to play there next season, but it contained an escape clause that said the group could back out if an opportunity arose for a team in Maryland. That came, and Wilmington eventually obtained a Single-A team in the Carolina League and affiliated with the Kansas City Royals.

"Then, we decided to make a run for '93," said Kirk. "We had all the architects and engineers in place and we paid $500,000 for designs and permits. We were hoping to start construction last fall."

That fell through and the group is still searching for a solution. For 1993, Bowie may look a lot like pro football's Baltimore Stars of the defunct U.S. Football League. They practiced in Philadelphia and played in College Park.

It seems likely that Bowie will play in a lot of places next summer.

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