- First visit: Sunday August 12th 2018
- Most recent visit: Sunday April 21st 2019
With so many baseball choices within an hour or so of where I was living in Maryland, it took until 2018 before we finally visited NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick MD. NYMEO Field is the home of the Frederick Keys, the high A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, who played in the Carolina League until 2019. From my home, NYMEO Field is about 39 miles away, and the drive varies from 45 minutes to more than an hour, depending on the game time and resulting traffic. After clearing the DC Metro area, the drive becomes scenic in spots, and as long as the evening commute can be avoided, the drive is fairly stress free.
Main parking for NYMEO Field is located in the front of the ballpark, just off Stadium Drive, and is a short walk to the main gate. This parking lot tends to fill quickly, especially during good weather before evening games. If this lot is full, there is a secondary lot behind the right field wall, which requires a walk of less than one-quarter of mile to the main entrance. Unlike most ballparks we have visited, parking at NYMEO Field is FREE, regardless of the lot used.
NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium is a modular ballpark, like many we have seen in our travels. Opening in 1990, it is one of the older minor parks we have encountered, yet its appearance does not bely its age. After entering the park through the main entrance, we crossed the upper concourse, which houses most of the concession stands in the stadium, as well as the team store. Once we emerged from the upper concourse, we saw that the main seating area at NYMEO Field was comprised of two levels, extending from third base base dugout behind home plate to the first base dugout. The lower concourse separates the two seating areas, with the lower seating area sporting orange seats, and the upper seating area adorned with navy blue seats.
Beyond each dugout, there is general admission seating consisting of aluminum benches. Finally, there is a row of luxury boxes atop the park, and a press level, which is flush with the upper concourse. In total, there are about 5,400 seats at NYMEO Field, which is typical of stadiums for this level of play. Ticket prices are reasonable, and all of the seats have good sight lines. There are four concession stands in the ballpark, with a number of portable stands all offering typical fare for baseball. The Roasthouse Pub and Kitchen Creations offer more in the way of variety, and I found myself going to the latter for my concession needs at the park.
Like many minor league (MiLB) parks we have seen, there is a portion of the park devoted to younger fans. Down the right field line is the Giant Eagle Fun Zone, which offers a carousel, a bounce house and water slides during the summer months. There is a distinct family friendly feel at NYMEO Field, and we saw more kids here than most other MiLB parks, especially when compared to the Orioles AA affiliate in Bowie MD. Sunshine and humid conditions during the early late morning gave way to more in the way of clouds as we reached the park, and there was a concern that thunderstorms might become an issue as the afternoon wore on.
As is typical for Sunday afternoon games following Saturday night contests, the attendance was comparatively light, and there were many good seats available. We sat just to the left of home plate, behind the protective screen in the lower deck. By game time (which was 205 pm), clouds had taken over the skies over NYMEO Field, and I became concerned that the game might be lost to the weather. The forecast was for thunderstorms, but I was hoping against hope that we could get the game in before the skies opened up.
As we kept a collective eye to the sky, the game started on time. Frederick played host to the Buie Creek Astros, the high A affiliate of the Houston Astros. The second batter for the Astros hit a home run, and the home team found themselves behind 2-0 before coming to the plate. In the bottom of the second inning, the Keys began to claw their way back into the game as second baseman Preston Palmeiro (the son of Orioles great Raphael Palmeiro) hit a home run to make the second 2-1. Rain started to fall in the top of the third inning, with lightning not too far away. Somehow the top of third inning was completed, but shortly thereafter rain and lightning chased most fans in the upper concourse (which was covered from the elements), and play was halted.
Rain and thunder continued for more than 30 minutes at NYMEO Field, and the outlook for the game to continue in these conditions was bleak. We stood with other fans in the upper concourse, vainly hoping we could resume play. While waiting, we perused the Keys team store, which offered standard fare, and listening to the sound of the rain pelting the roof of the stadium. When it became obvious that there would be no more baseball that afternoon, we prepared to leave. Just as we were walking to the exit, the game was officially cancelled. Rather than postpone the game, it was cancelled, since we were so close to the end of the MiLB season. Our first visit to see the Keys was washed out after just two and one-half innings. Disappointed, we pulled away from the stadium. Though the sample size was small, I was impressed with the stadium and its feel, and I knew we would have to visit again.
Fortunately, the weather was much more agreeable for our next visit on April 21st, 2019, as the Keys played host to the Salem Red Sox, the high A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Partly sunny skies and seasonable temperatures made for ideal conditions to see a game, and we arrived about an hour before game time. Having seen most of NYMEO Field during our previous excursion, we did not explore the park quite as extensively. Like most MiLB parks, the outfield was ringed by wooden advertising signs (with signs stacked two or three high in places). Sitting atop the the left field advertising signs was a small but functional videoboard and a small but functional scoreboard rose above the wall in right field. A smaller scoreboard and videoboard suited the ballpark nicely, functional and certainly unobtrusive.
Bullpens for the home and visiting teams were located about halfway down the foul lines, and like most MiLB parks, the bullpens were in foul territory. Because of the angling of the field, the seating area for each bullpen placed them in precarious positions for line drive foul balls. We found that pitchers did not occupy this area unless they were warming up to come into the game. More sunshine gave us a better feel for the ballpark, and increased my appreciation for it. In fact, I wished that it was located in Bowie (closer to where I live), since it seemed to be a much better facility than the one I frequented during the summer.
Visiting again on a Sunday, the crowd was fairly small, though the nice spring weather certainly wasn’t a deterrent. Because of the thin attendance, we sat in the first row directly behind the third base dugout, giving us a great view of the action. Unlike our previous visit, we were treated to a full game. Though the crowd was spread out across the seating area, they were enthusiastic. We learned that when the Keys were rallying, fans shook their keys (in addition to cheering), which seemed appropriate. To get a better feel for the atmosphere of NYMEO Field, you check out a video clip here.
The level of play in the Carolina League is better than the lower levels, but not nearly as polished as you would expect to see in MLB stadiums. At this level, hitting is usually better than the pitching, as the young arms are still developing. Talent on the field is unmistakable, but players are still, in some cases, working on fundamentals. The experience level in the Carolina League can be wide, as players as young as 18 years of age compete against former college players climbing the ladder through their respective systems. Keeping that in mind, baseball in the MiLB can be more fun than the MLB, watching players that you might see in MLB uniforms in the near future, in a much more intimate setting.
On this day, we saw a relatively well-played game, with fewer walks than typical for high A baseball, and the hometown Keys squeezed out a 4-2 victory. While NYMEO Field at Harry Grove Stadium is a modular stadium that resembles many MiLB parks we have seen, there is an family friendly atmosphere, which results in a pleasant baseball experience. A downsizing plan by MLB threatened to eliminate the Frederick Keys , as MiLB was slated to contract from 160 teams to 120 across the United States after the 2020 season. Given the cancelled season due to the pandemic, there was a distinct possibility that the Keys fans would have been robbed of the chance to say a proper goodbye to their team.
Fortunately, the Frederick franchise was spared the ignominy of oblivion, as they were chosen to host one of the teams of the MLB Draft League. The new league, featuring top prospects eligible to be drafted, will debut in 2021. Though the level of play may not as high as the Keys fans have come to expect, I would encourage you, if given the opportunity, to see a game at NYMEO Field.