O's affiliates ready to spring forward

Baysox, Shorebirds, Keys set to play ball again, tout upgrades on, off field

Minor-League Baseball

April 04, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Amid the backdrop of the eternal hope of spring, Maryland's three full-season Oriole affiliates launch play this week aiming for improved results on the field and at the gate.

With each team scheduled for an opener at home, the Double-A Bowie Baysox and lower Single-A Delmarva Shorebirds tonight get the jump on the high Single-A Frederick Keys, who debut tomorrow evening.

A team-by-team look:

Bowie

The Baysox launch their 10th anniverary season after relocating to Memorial Stadium in 1993 from Hagerstown, then moving to Prince George's Stadium in June of the following season.

Opening Day festivities will salute those with ties to that first year in Baltimore, including season-ticket holders, employees and sponsors, who will receive a brick from Memorial Stadium. The team's first manager, Orioles director of player development Don Buford, will be honored, and the Babe Ruth Museum will display a Memorial Stadium time capsule and give away a seat from the Memorial Stadium stands to one fan.

Local service personnel and victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are also to be honored.

Baysox management hopes the hoopla will kick off a revitalization after last season when attendance - undermined by rainouts on usually lucrative dates - slipped by 50,000 customers to 350,127 and the team limped home with a 59-82 record and finished last in the Eastern League's South Division.

The team - as did other clubs in the Orioles system - suffered mightily in 2001 when injuries at the major-league level and call-ups of prospects, perhaps prematurely in some cases, often left the farm clubs short-handed.

"I think if the injuries are minimized among the Orioles and we can keep the team intact, the quality will improve," said Baysox general manager Jon Danos.

No one expects the new short-season A Club at Aberdeen, which starts play June 18, to sap other clubs of personnel.

Some 30 pitchers were left behind at extended spring training because, according to coordinator Dave Schmidt, they weren't ready to pitch.

The early Bowie roster certainly looks loaded with 14 returnees from the 2001 Baysox, including Tim Raines Jr., who spent part of September with the Orioles playing with his father; left-hander Matt Riley, another one-time Oriole who was injured last season; and highly touted prospects like outfielders Keith Reed and Darnell McDonald, shortstop Ed Rogers and pitchers Erik Bedard and Steve Bechler.

Bowie manager Dave Cash isn't getting carried away yet, although the lineup also embraces his two power hitters at Frederick from a year ago, Doug Gredvig and Raymond Cabrera.

"On paper we look good, but we haven't been tested yet," said Cash, whose rotation has Bedard, Bechler, Riley, Mike Paradis and Ken Sims. "We have some guys who can swing the bat, but they have to adjust to a new league. One time around the league should tell us more."

Delmarva

The Shorebirds, the most consistently successful club in the system in the standings, also underwent a slump a year ago, losing 79 of 140 games and surrendering their South Atlantic League attendance domination to new franchises in Lexington, Ky., and Lakewood, N.J., which have much larger markets.

A playoff team for four straight seasons and the league champion twice, Delmarva has eight players drafted by the Orioles in the top five rounds and will be buttressed by an influx of talent from rookie-league Bluefield, which made the Appalachian League playoffs.

Three sandwich draft picks, pitcher Scott Rice and infielders Bryan Bass and Tripper Johnson, will be featured for manager Joe Ferguson.

"We've got some good athletes, some speed and good arms," said Ferguson, whose pitching rotation will include Richard Bartlett, David Crouthers, Fredy Deza and Ben Knapp. "We have some extra-base power and a few guys who can hit it out."

Included in that category is Ed Rogers' brother, infielder Omar, who impressed at Bluefield.

But Ferguson has no illusions. "Lexington [defending South Atlantic champion] is stacked again with 26- and 27-year-olds in a lower A league," he said. "They're the odds-on favorite. I don't see how you can defeat them."

The 2002 changes at Perdue Stadium will include a new restaurant, new arcade room, and new pre-game activities outside the park. The team has also adjusted some ticket prices downward to accommodate the market. Among the giveaways will be Cal Ripken and Frank Perdue bobblehead dolls.

The Shorebirds will be the only one of the three clubs to beam radio coverage throughout their area. Bowie and Frederick deals were discontinued because last year's stations did not have sufficient market penetration to justify expenses.

"We've always been in search of a station that will reach our entire fan base," Danos said.

Frederick

Former Oriole Jack Voigt starts his full-time managerial career at a franchise that increased by 10,000 at the gate last season in the first year of ownership by Comcast-Spectacor.

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