New owner brings new ideas for O's affiliates

Comcast-Spectacor to increase promotion, boost local TV coverage

Minor-League Baseball

April 05, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Change and refinement will be the bywords this season in the operation of the three Orioles minor-league affiliates that reside in Maryland.

With the acquisition of the Bowie Baysox, Frederick Keys and Delmarva Shorebirds by the sports entertainment giant Comcast-Spectacor last year, the accent will shift to increased promotional vehicles, more in-game entertainment and, for the first time, televised games on a major scale.

Experimentation with local cable telecasts will be supplemented by several televised games of each team on Comcast's new network, Comcast SportsNet, formerly Home Team Sports.

"We hope to do two or three games with each of our teams," said Peter Luukko, president of Comcast-Spectacor Ventures. "We're in negotiations with the Orioles, so as not to interfere with any of their telecasts. Right now, we're just trying to find the right holes. Then we'll see what the future holds."

The Baysox and Keys have been selectively telecast on local cable stations, but never on a network as widespread. This will provide the three teams with promotional exposure heretofore unavailable.

"We see acquiring these teams as synergistic," Luukko said. "We're branching out and we see this opportunity in Maryland as fantastic. We love minor-league sports."

In addition to ownership of the Philadelphia 76ers and the Philadelphia Flyers, Comcast-Spectacor's holdings include the highly successful Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League, a model of minor-league efficiency.

Its takeover of the teams from Maryland Baseball LLC arrives at a time when the parent Orioles are placing greater emphasis on their minor-league players, many of whom previously wound up in other organizations.

The clubs' general managers are welcoming the new direction.

"We're basically refining the organization, improving the infrastructure and taking a year to evaluate fan reaction," said Bowie GM Jon Danos. "There will be more catered events, more in-game entertainment, more activity in the community and more visibility."

Said Delmarva GM Jim Terrill: "There will be more grassroots marketing using all of the media. More partners will be coming on board."

With immense resources at hand, the new ownership will be able to attempt various techniques without the fear of them being cost-prohibitive. They will cross-promote the teams in larger-sized markets. Already, they have installed more modern computers and marketing facilities.

At Bowie, even the program look has been altered. More closely resembling a playbill, it will be 32 pages and free. It will include updated statistics and rosters for that particular series and information regarding the promotions and entertainment that night. The idea is to give advertisers greater exposure and fans less expense.

"We have been espoused to a minor-league team [Phantoms] in a major-league market (Philadelphia]," said Frank Miceli, the firm's vice president of minor-league operations.

On the field, the Baysox will be striving to rebound from a subpar season, the Keys will be aiming to make the Single-A Carolina League playoffs again, and the Shorebirds will be gunning to maintain their history of excellence.

At Double-A Bowie, manager Dave Machemer will have 15 players who saw service with him at Frederick in 2000 and five former Orioles first-round draft choices.

Among the top-of-the-line prospects with the Baysox will be 19-year-old shortstop Ed Rogers; outfielder Darnell McDonald, who was the "most outstanding hitter of the spring," according to Machemer; outfielders Larry Bigbie and Papy Ndungidi, and pitcher Mike Paradis.

Also on the roster are the three pitchers obtained in the Charles Johnson trade, Juan Figueroa, Jason Lakman and Miguel Felix; third baseman Jose Leon, who came to the Orioles for Will Clark; and reliever Jorge Julio, obtained for Ryan Minor. Another player to watch closely is second baseman-outfielder Willie Harris, who "was on base two or three times every game this spring," Machemer said.

Harris is trying to become only the second major-leaguer from Cairo, Ga. The first was Jackie Robinson.

Rick Bauer gets tonight's opening-game start at Harrisburg , and Figueroa, Felix, John Stephens and Paradis follow him in the pitching rotation.

"I really like our infield and outfield defense," Machemer said. "On offense, we're going to be exciting and aggressive."

The Keys landed two first-round draftees, pitcher Beau Hale and outfielder Keith Reed, considered perhaps the best of all Orioles prospects.

Hale was last year's No. 1 pick out of the University of Texas, where he led the team to its 28th College World Series and threw the Longhorns' first no-hitter in 13 years.

New manager Dave Cash, a coach at Triple-A Rochester last season, likes the `'balance" of his team. "We have some power and some guys who can run. We'll rely on our pitching and defense to take us as far as we can go."

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