Injuries, promotions take toll on Keys 1st half a rousing success, but second is a fallback

September 22, 1997|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

The 1997 Frederick Keys were the case of a tale of two seasons.

With a star-studded lineup the first half, they zipped to 45 victories and won the Carolina League's Northern Division and a playoff berth.

But after the break, the Keys were devastated by injuries and the promotions of Jim Foster, David Lamb and Hut Smith to Double-A and were not restocked with new personnel.

So, they stumbled to a 24-46 second half, the worst in their history, and did not win a postseason game.

The contrast was striking. The Keys won only one road game in August, went 7-26 away from Grove Stadium overall and underwent a nine-game losing streak, tying the team record.

Except for Rick Short and Chris Bryant, the lineup was filled with slumping players in the second half, team speed was inadequate, and the loss of injured starters Mark Seaver and Todd Dyess took its toll.

Manager Dave Hilton took the turnaround philosophically.

"It's not unusual in minor-league baseball to have two different seasons. I've seen it before," he said. "But in the system, FTC Double-A has priority. You just have to go on."

One bright spot was the final attendance, which began an upward spiral again after three straight seasons of decreases.

The Keys drew 274,894, up more than 16,000 from 1996 with the combination of a good first-half team, more favorable weather and vigorous promotion.

Hilton said he was "discouraged" about the second-half reversal. "I'm not satisfied professionally with those results. But the players gave their best effort."

The Keys' was not a roster filled with hot-shot prospects although pitchers Chris Fussell and Billy Percibal joined the team late in the year.

The biggest advancement came from pitcher Eric Estes, who was playing in an independent league the previous season. Estes finished seventh in the Carolina League with a 3.47 ERA and won nine games.

Short continued to show his hitting prowess by winning the league batting crown, and Francis Hernandez set a Frederick record with 24 saves.

Keys review

Class: Single-A

Attendance: 274,894 for 66 dates

Record: 69-71, won division first half with 45-25. Lost in first round of playoffs to Lynchburg, 2 games to 0.

Honors and league leaders: Best half in Keys history (first). IF Rick Short, Carolina League all-star and batting champion.

Top prospects: IF Short, OF Jason Lecronier, P Eric Estes and P Francis Hernandez.

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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