The Suns and The Keys

Frederick's Carroll Creek Park

I’ve often had to look at the Northwest part of Maryland on a map for work purposes and this trip was nice to put a better visual in my mind. The small cities of Frederick and Hagerstown are just a half-hour apart and they both have a single-A baseball franchise, thus making for a convenient weekend visit. I started in Frederick because that city has more to see and Saturday’s game was in the evening. It was jammed downtown when I pulled into a parking garage and the plethora of 20-somethings made sense once I saw they were headed to a
Craft Beer Fest. The City of Clustered Spires really has become a trendy, hot spot for those looking to get away from DC, but still close enough to commute. I absolutely loved this downtown with Carroll Creek Park being the highlight. A remarkably creative flood control project done over the last few decades has turned this creek into a calm and stationary stream of water that the city built around and turned into a mini-version of San Antonio’s RiverWalk. As evidenced by the beerfest, this is a great place for events and for citizens to take a walk and enjoy the day.  Especially awesome is the Community Bridge, an artistic mural with so many intrinsic details and images that the public contributed to. The park is less than ten years old and further expansion/development plans are just going to enhance what is a terrific place in the city.

The rest of the downtown area is great as well with so many historic buildings and stories on displays along the way. This is a place with a colorful past, especially during the Civil War era and a walking tour illustrates that quite well. I had lunch at Firestone’s and while the bar was great, the food as eh. Shoulda picked Brewer’s Alley. There are tons of choices in this city, including Brian Voltaggio’s Volt (I love Top Chef, but didn’t feel like getting a super fancy meal). After strolling thru town some more and picking up soda at a cool Pop Shop, I headed to the hotel a few minutes away to rest a bit from the heat.

Harry Grove Stadium Interior

The Keys game was at 6 PM and a good crowd joined. Of course, the usual reason for a decent draw at a minor-league baseball game is fireworks and that indeed was the case here (I try to avoid fireworks night to get a more accurate gauge of fan support/atmosphere, but this was inevitable). After walking thru the oddly elongated parking lot and getting past the 10 minute wait at will call, I found a ballpark very common amongst Orioles affiliates. Though on the older side (1989), Harry Grove Stadium has the usual features seen in places like Aberdeen, Bowie and Delmarva…a middle aisle in the seating bowl, a carousel, an intermediate press box and a design laid out in brick (in this case, somewhat drab in color). The home of the Keys was built just on the cusp of the ballpark boom and they have at least made some efforts to personalize the park, like the orange lower seats. Displays however are sorely lacking. The crowd also partakes in a cool tradition during the middle of the 7th inning, where the fans shake their car keys as a corny, yet catchy and enjoyable theme song plays. In the game, Frederick just could not overcome the 6-spot that the Lynchburg Hillcats put up in the first inning. Offensively, the Keys would exceed that number, but pitching/defense let them down in the fourth inning as well with another six runs scored by the Hillcats. By the way, it’s almost impossible to spot a home run ball thanks to the three tiers of advertisements on the outfield wall and the invisible yellow line. Frederick ended up falling to Lynchburg, 12-8 in a 3 hour, 25 minute game, badly illustrating why the “A” level leagues need the same time rules that AA and AAA have this season. One final note, keeping in mind seating capacity is 5,400. The announced attendance was 8,344. Estimated actual attendance by me…4,000 (see picture above). Yikes, inflating numbers sadly remains alive.

Sunday started with me doing some forecasting. Given their topography, Hagerstown is a favorable spot for t-storms and I was fairly convinced they would get one on this day. It was almost enough for me to consider an alternate plan (like maybe heading down to Woodbridge, VA for a game instead), but I decided to risk it and dearly hope the scattered nature of the storms would work in my favor. Before heading to the Hub City, I traveled US 40-Alt, better known as The National Road, the first true road in this country. Taking me through small places like Middlestown and Boonsboro, I began the morning at the first Washington Monument, located in it’s own State Park along the Appalachian Trail. While the monument was enjoyable, it was the view from the top that was really worth the short hike (and to get away from the gnats at the bottom). On this Sunday, they also had a demonstration featuring the firing of a Civil War era cannon. While many think of Gettysburg and that part of PA as “Civil War”, this section of Maryland is so historical and the state does an excellent job displaying various markers and historical sites.

Washington Monument

I then went into Hagerstown, which is smaller with less to do than Frederick, yet still charming in it’s own right. I keep throwing around “historical” for lack of alternate words, yet this was another downtown that displayed it and I enjoyed walking around and admiring the architecture and informational markers. With a lack of touristy stuff in the city itself, I stopped into the visitors center and unexpectedly enjoyed a 30-minute conversation with Roger who’s wealth of local knowledge was remarkable. Small world in that he talked to me about Nathaniel Rochester, a resident of Hagerstown and founder of my hometown of Rochester, NY. There is also some German heritage in Hagerstown and a well-regarded Bavarian restaurant called Schmankerl Stube was my original plan for lunch. However the heat and humidity made me not crave a filling German meal, so I opted for 28 South, a trendy spot that was a great choice too.

With skies still clear, I got to Municipal Stadium early to get all of my pictures without any disrupting rain. At the same time, I wondered why do the Suns start their Sunday games at 3:05 PM instead of around 1 PM like everyone else? Anyway, mission accomplished with the pictures and I sat down for first pitch with dark clouds gathering. Despite the threat, amazingly we skirted the storms and came away with just some light rain that allowed for the game to be played in it’s entirety and myself rejoicing in a reasonable arrival time back home. The Suns are celebrating their 35th year in Hagerstown and that is an anniversary worth celebrating. Often the subject of a relocation, the team has survived despite neglect by both city and team ownership. Municipal Stadium is not exactly a cute, charming 1920’s era ballpark. Instead it is a deteriorating facility that was originally built on the cheap and badly in need of some TLC. While it’s unique to experience affiliated baseball without the classic appearance or usual shtick, the state of this ballpark and franchise is sad. As for the game, The Suns fell 7-5 and I have yet to see a new stadium home team victory in 2015. Look for reviews on the right later in the week. That wraps up a weekend of baseball in an area of the country I wouldn’t normally visit and I’m so glad sports brought me to Northwest Maryland.

Municipal Stadium Interior


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