Bowie is near bringing baseball back to 33rd St.

January 06, 1993|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Staff Writer

After a one-year hiatus, baseball is close to returning t Memorial Stadium.

Owners of Bowie's new minor-league franchise are near agreement with Orioles and city officials on terms that would allow them to play temporarily at the old 33rd Street ballpark while work is completed on a stadium in Bowie.

Sources familiar with the talks said that Bowie team officials are so confident that a deal is imminent that they have discussed announcing their plans as soon as Friday night, possibly at the annual Tops in Sports banquet.

But Peter Kirk, an investor in the Double-A Bowie team and the Single-A Frederick Keys, both Orioles affiliates, said it was too soon to predict when plans might be complete. "We're very close. But there's no decision today," said the owner.

Mr. Kirk said team officials were trying to resolve logistical and financial issues in their talks with city and Orioles officials.

The city would be the team's landlord at Memorial Stadium, which has been vacant except for several football games since the Orioles moved out after the 1991 season. The Orioles are involved in the talks for a number of reasons. The Bowie team is a minor-league affiliate of the Orioles, meaning that its players belong to the major-league team and are paid by the Orioles.

In addition, the Orioles own territorial rights to Baltimore. No other professional baseball team can move within five miles of the city without Orioles management giving its approval.

The Orioles have acknowledged that they have met with Mr. Kirk about Memorial Stadium. But, yesterday, Orioles spokesman Rick Vaughn said: "We're talking with them, but the deal isn't completed."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke could not be reached for comment yesterday.

For fans, the return of baseball to Memorial Stadium would mean a new, slightly less polished style of play and lots of new and

strange rivalries. The Bowie team, which doesn't have a nickname yet, plays in the eight-team Eastern League, against such opponents as the Reading Phillies, New Britain Red Sox and Canton-Akron Indians. The league plays a 140-game schedule, stretching from the second week of April until the first week of September.

For the city, a deal with the Bowie owners would mean something equally valuable: a steady tenant willing to pick up many of the costs of operating the 53,371-seat stadium. That apparently could run into a lot of money. The cost of turning on the old stadium's lights alone is estimated at $800 per game, plus a monthly service charge of roughly $5,500.

Memorial Stadium wouldn't be the Bowie owners' first choice.

Initially, they hoped the team would begin the season at a $9 million stadium being built in Prince George's County. Construction has been delayed, however, and excavation of the site has not begun. Even an aggressive construction schedule probably won't get the ballpark ready for its first pitch before late summer.

Last year, Mr. Kirk said that his group would study about a half-dozen ballparks in Maryland and Washington as temporary homes for the team. The list included local college and community baseball diamonds as well as RFK Stadium, the one-time home of the Washington Senators.

Besides Memorial Stadium, Mr. Kirk has given most consideration to the baseball park at the University of Maryland-College Park. However, playing home games at that field probably would require the Bowie investors to make at least one costly investment -- lights.

How long the Bowie team will remain at a temporary home isn't clear. The team could begin the season at Memorial Stadium before moving to a completed ballpark in Bowie. But Mr. Kirk hinted that it's likely the team would remain at a temporary site for the whole season.

"If the stadium in Bowie is finished at some logical point to make the change, we could do that," he said. "But, on the other hand, it's not something you do lightly once you have sold tickets and your players are settled."

Orioles officials have cited a few reasons for lending support for the Memorial Stadium plan. But they seem particularly intrigued with the idea of allowing their young players to spend a season playing on a well-groomed field under major-league lights. For most minor-leaguers, conditions are far less favorable.

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