- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

By this time next season, you could be attending baseball games at Shake Shack Field. Or Amazon Park.

The Washington Nationals revealed this spring that the Lerner family is entertaining offers to sell the naming rights to the ballpark — known as Nationals Park since it opened in 2008.

Let’s face it: While we all may have gotten used to Nationals Park, it is hardly an iconic name. It won’t be hard to switch over to Harris-Teeter Park or whatever the name may be. We may be used to Verizon Center, but it used to called MCI Center, and if it was changed to Bank of America Arena tomorrow, no one would shed a tear. We’ve gotten used to idea of stadium and arena naming rights — all in the name of “revenue growth potential.”

Valerie Camillo, the Nationals’chief revenue and marketing officer, said earlier this year that the team is examining “non-traditional” companies for possible naming rights.

Here’s a non-traditional company that most Nationals fans could get behind — “Bryce Harper Field at Under Armour Stadium.”

You have to admit, the one thing that the New York Yankees wouldn’t offer Harper when he becomes a free agent after the 2018 season is a chance to rename Yankee Stadium.

Naming the ballpark after himself is likely not something that would appeal to Harper, though I’m sure Under Armour would love it.

The best ballpark naming rights story in the United States took place about 35 miles from Washington, up the Interstate 270 corridor in Frederick, Maryland — the home of the Frederick Keys, the Baltimore Orioles’s Single-A affiliate.

In 1989, before the days of stadium naming rights — especially in Minor League Baseball — the new ballpark being built in Frederick fell short in funding by $250,000, putting it at risk. Mayor Ron Young held a press conference about the shortfall, and joked that anyone who visited his office with $250,000 could name the ballpark whatever they wanted.

A Frederick resident name 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 return the next day. He did, 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, for what the two of them shared when M.J. was growing up.

“I thought it was a nice thing to do,” M.J. Grove, who played baseball at Yale, told me years later. “He loved baseball, and I thought it would be a great way for him to be remembered.”

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 Grove’s grave marker from the stadium.

The team sold the naming rights to the field last year to Nymeo Federal Credit Union, but the name of Harry Grove remains on the ballpark — Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium, the lasting memory of a son to his father and their shared love of baseball.

The Nationals will be hard-pressed to come up with a more meaningful naming rights deal than that one.

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