Keys finish first half on a tear; Fall League to fold
Jun. 24, 1999

June 24, 1999

Keys finish first half on a tear; Fall League to fold

by John Hoffmann

Gazette Correspondent

A late surge during the last two weeks of the Carolina League's first half left the Frederick Keys two-and-half games behind the Wilmington Blue Rocks in the Northern Division standings. The Keys, who completed the season's first half Sunday with a 6-0 win over Lynchburg at Harry Grove Stadium, finished with a 37-33 record and were winners in eight of their last nine games.

Right-handed pitcher Chad Paronto earned the win Sunday with seven innings of four-hit ball. He fanned eight batters and walked one to lower his inflated earned run average, which stood at 7.94 entering the contest.

The Keys, who led the league in attendance for the first half with 154,537 fans, will open the second half beginning Friday with a three-game series at Wilmington and will return to Grove Stadium Monday for a three-game set against the Winston-Salem Warthogs.

NOTES: Brandon Huntsman, who was called up to Frederick on May 9, had some Jekyll and Hyde performances for the Keys in the first half. He won his first two starts, and his sixth start in which he threw seven innings of shutout ball. He had a 3-2 record with a 5.79 ERA after six starts before he suffered a freak shoulder injury at Salem on June 12 during a collision at first base.

Keys manager Andy Etchebarren said he hopes the all-star break this week will allow Huntsman to rest and recover in time for the second half.

"I haven't been consistent. One bad inning kills me," said Huntsman, who credits the Keys' solid defense for helping him this season. "Our defense made a difference in my wins. These guys can sure make some plays."

Huntsman has also been busy giving interviews concerning his battles with testicular and stomach cancer from two years ago.

"I'm getting used to giving the interviews. It has become almost routine. I hope I can throw some good games and maybe they will quit mentioning it and write about my pitching instead."

* Look for Maryland Baseball to announce this summer that it will add two more teams to its group during the next two years. Maryland Baseball is currently working on deals for clubs in Aberdeen, Md., in 2000 and York, Pa., in 2001.

The Aberdeen team likely would be in the independent Atlantic League, which has league executives who have been closely associated with Maryland Baseball CEO Peter Kirk over the years.

Last month Kirk met with business leaders in York, where a new downtown stadium is being planned to open in two years.

The Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League have given Maryland Baseball permission to explore placing a team in York since Pennsylvania state funding for a new stadium would include money for the City of Harrisburg to improve their new River Island ballpark.

The pitch to the community has been for a full-season team. Speculation in York is that the Baysox would move to York and stay in the Eastern League, while the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings would move to Bowie.

The Orioles have a contract with the Red Wings through 2001, so another team may have to be brought in for one year if play is to start in 2001.

* The Maryland Fall Baseball League appears to be history. Last year the Bowie Nationals, Wilmington Stars, Frederick Regiment and Delmarva Rockfish were the four clubs in the league. While Maryland Baseball officials won't say on the record that the league is dead, some privately admit that it is finished after one season.

"We have not heard officially from the commissioner's office for their intentions for the Fall League," said Maryland Fall League president and Maryland Baseball Vice President Keith Lupton. "There is some interest in it in the California League. It is getting fairly late for us to get involved this year."

Sources differ on the exact details of the Maryland Baseball proposal. But Maryland Baseball did want a specific dollar amount for every player in the league to underwrite the operation costs of front offices, the ballparks, clubhouses and travel. The amount is somewhere between $1,500 and $2,500 per player. Apparently officials from the California League have made inquiries with Maryland Baseball as to the operations last fall.

The Maryland Fall League was established after high operating costs forced the Hawaiian League to fold after the 1997 season. The league was designed to let prospects headed for Double-AA level teams to work on their skills for six weeks after the end of the regular season.

* Matt Riley, the Orioles' prized pitching prospect, has experienced some of the same initial resentment that the Orioles' other "can't miss" prospect, Jerry Hairston, Jr., experienced last season with some teammates. Some players in any organization, who have spent four or five years without making much progress, have a tough time seeing a rookie be anointed as the next star player. Riley got some cold shoulders when he was first called up to Bowie, but he said he has made a nice adjustment.

"At first a few maybe thought a little different about me than they do now," Riley said on June 11. "Once they got to know me they have told me they have a completely different impression. It's been awesome here (Bowie). The guys here bust their butts for you. I appreciate a team like that. I might not have as many good friends here as I had at Frederick, but everyone gets along. They get on each other here and no one is thin-skinned and gets upset. It's been fun. "

When asked if he is anxious for a promotion to Rochester, the 19-year-old lefthander said he really doesn't want to go to there this year.

"I know there is a lot to learn here on the Double-A club. I'd like to work with Smitty (Bowie pitching coach Dave Schmidt) and let things come along. Of course, whenever Baltimore is ready, I'm ready."

Immediately after picking up his fourth victory for the Baysox on June 18, Riley discussed his selection to the rosters of the U.S. Futures Team and the U.S. team for the Pan-Am games. Riley said he is excited about the Futures Games, which will be played the day before the Major League All-Star game in Boston. He added that he has some problems with how he might be used on the Pan-Am team.

"I think the Futures game will be good for baseball. It will give America a chance to see the best prospects. It will be better than the legend's game when you get 60-year-olds trying to play baseball. I'm just sorry it's just a seven inning game."