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Kirk pitches Frederick on AtL ballpark lease; will settle for Keys

Harry Grove Stadium

Atlantic League mogul Peter Kirk has pitched Frederick (Md.) officials on taking over the lease at Harry Grove Stadium for an independent-league team — but will settle for buying the Frederick Keys (High Class A; Carolina League) as a consolation prize.

Kirk certainly is one of the more interesting people in baseball, and he’s seizing on the fact that the Keys’ lease is up at Harry Grove Stadium is up. There’s been some animosity between the Frederick and the Keys in the past over ballpark maintenance, but as of late the relationship is on a much firmer footing.

Kirk is proposing he and the Atlantic League take over the lease from the Keys, and he’s willing to pay more than the $30,000 or so annually the Keys pay in base rent. The Keys are proposing some additional upgrades to the ballark, and Kirk is willing to fund improvements as well. There’s no doubt the city would make more money from the ballpark under the Atlantic League. Kirk has spoken with Frederick officials on general terms: he’s not yet supplied a detailed proposal.

There’s one thing Kirk cannot supply at this time: an affiliated team. That’s something city officials are very aware of.

Talking last night to a city official, one thing is clear: they’re not taking the Kirk proposal seriously at this time. A year or so ago and Kirk might have actually had a fighting chance at taking over the lease, but the Keys front office — especially GM Dave Ziedelis — has worked hard to patch up relations with the city. They also offer an Orioles farm team, one where players are routinely sent on rehab assignments: during our visit this past season outfielder Felix Pie was wowing the locals with his higher level of play.

But we suspect Kirk’s real goal here isn’t to land an Atlantic League team in Frederick. Yes, he wants the lease — badly. But we suspect he wants it more as a tool to buy the Keys: If he controls the lease, he has the leverage to buy the team from Ken Young. It’s no secret the Keys have been on the market for some time. Of course, there would be conniptions galore if Kirk actually bought the teams: we seriously doubt he would get approval from MiLB to consummate the deal. We’ve spoken about this with him in the past: Kirk, one of the original owners of the Keys who is now the owner of three independent Atlantic League teams, is of the belief he can bridge the gap between affiliated and independent baseball, owning teams in both worlds and perhaps bringing indy ball into the affiliated fold. But there’s still a lot of animosity in the world of affiliated owners toward indy ball, particularly in the Class AA Eastern League. Current MiLB rules prohibit the ownership of both affiliated and indy teams (something Kirk disputes, by the way), and we don’t see that changing any time soon.

In any case, this is all just talk — but it makes for good offseason water-cooler fodder.

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