- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 27, 2001

It's the week after Christmas, and all through the house, the last thing you want to read is a story about a louse.
So in this space today, we offer something bright, a heartwarming story about stadium naming rights.
Stadium naming rights? Am I still feeling the effects of a little too much egg nog? Is there another subject that defines everything that has gone wrong in the sports world these days like stadium naming rights? Well, there may be a few, but it's right up there with police blotters and players unions.
The taxpayers of Maryland spent millions of dollars for a new football stadium in Baltimore, yet it does NOT carry a name that symbolizes anything to do with the state or its people. PSINet Stadium was named for a company in Virginia, an Internet company that paid $105 million to Ravens owner Art Modell two years ago. Now the company is bankrupt, and, according to the Baltimore Sun, it is possible the naming rights for the stadium could wind up in the hands of a Hong Kong company partly owned by the Communist Chinese government when bankruptcy proceedings are all said and done.
Welcome to Mao Tse-tung Stadium.
Pity the poor people of Houston who paid for a new ballpark for the Astros, and now have to drive by and see the name "Enron" on the facility. That's a double dose of disgust, since I'm sure many of those taxpayers were also Enron investors who now face financial ruin because of that company's collapse (they should have named it Bill Collins Stadium anyway, in honor of the Virginia Baseball executive who really got it built).
They are talking about selling the naming rights in Chicago for Comiskey Park, possibly calling it "Household Field," for the Household Finance Corp. The Chicago Sun Times reported that Charles Comiskey IV, the great grandson of the founder of the team, Charles Comiskey, called the prospects of removing his family's name from the stadium a "sacrilege to baseball."
I don't know. Charles Comiskey was no bargain, either. That's a toss up. I think they should name it Mike Royko Field myself, and I'm willing to put up my $10 to start the drive to do so.
So where is this heartwarming tale that I promised you? It's right up the road in our backyard, in Frederick, Md., where the greatest stadium naming rights story ever told took place, and, in light of the current state of this sordid practice, is worth revisiting.
When they were building a new minor league ballpark for Peter Kirk's Class A minor league team in Frederick back in 1989, there was no such thing as stadium naming rights, particularly on a minor league level. The ballpark was being paid for with local and state money, plus a share by Maryland Baseball, the owners of the Frederick Keys. But they were coming up short in the funding $250,000 worth and the project was in jeopardy. Frederick Mayor Ron Young held a news conference about the shortfall, and joked that anyone who came to his office with $250,000 could name the ballpark whatever they wanted.
"We all laughed," Kirk said. "At the time, it was a joke."
M.J. Grove read the mayor's comments in the local paper, and went to his office the following week. He didn't have an appointment, and sat in Young's office for an hour before he told the secretary that he would come back the next day, according to Mark Zeigler, a senior accountant executive for the Keys and the team's unofficial historian. He came back, and this time he got to see the mayor. He told Young he had a check for $250,000 to finish the ballpark, as long as he could name it. Young said, fine, and the Keys new ballpark opened in 1990 as Harry Grove Stadium.
M.J. Grove paid $250,000 to name the ballpark after his father. Why? Because some of his fondest memories of his father involved baseball, and he wanted to honor his father, Harry Grove, for what the two of them shared when M.J. Grove was growing up. When you talk about fathers and sons and the connection of baseball, there are few stories better than this one.
"I thought it was a nice thing to do," said M.J. Grove, now 95 years old and living in a retirement home in Frederick. "He loved baseball, and I thought it would be a great way for him to be remembered."
It was the perfect name for the Keys new home. It was not only a connection between a father and son, but between professional baseball past and present in Frederick. Harry Grove had helped organize the Blue Ridge professional baseball league back in 1915, and now his name would be associated again with the return of professional baseball to Frederick.
Not only that, but Harry Grove is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, right next to the stadium the same place where Francis Scott Key, who the team is named after, is buried. "You can see [Harry Groves] grave marker from the stadium," Ziegler said.
"It was a wonderful gesture," Kirk said. "[M.J. Grove] told us stories about how he remembered his father being a part of baseball in Frederick when he was a kid and how he would have loved to have been part of a new team coming to Frederick."
Baseball was a big in the Grove family. "It ran in the family," said M.J. Grove, who still gets out to one or two Keys games a year. He had two brothers who played the game, and M.J. himself was a college baseball star at Yale in the late 1920s, and held numerous records there, including one that still stands a 21-game hitting streak. Instead of a career in baseball, though, M.J. Grove opted for another opportunity a Rhodes scholarship after he left Yale.
"I decided that was better for me than playing baseball," he said.
But the game always meant something special to him, and 60 years after graduating from Yale, M.J. Grove delivered a $250,000 check to name a ballpark not for some corporate entity, but in a display of love for the game and what it meant to a father and son.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.


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