Frederick, Md. — Growing up, Nick Stewart always dreamed about putting on a Keys uniform. An avid baseball fan and rising star, Stewart and his family would often make the short trip from Loudoun County to Frederick to watch the then-Class A-Advanced affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles play at Harry Grove Stadium.
Just over a decade later, Stewart gets to live his childhood dream.
“Sometimes I start to get sidetracked and I start to think a little bit too much, so I’ll just sit down here at the ballpark and think about when I was a kid coming to Keys games,” the 6-foot-5 Stewart said. “If I could see my future self out here on the field, it’s just a big honor being able to put this uniform on.”
On July 5—in the same stadium he grew up watching games in—Stewart helped Frederick pick up its third straight win as the Rock Ridge High School graduate tossed a perfect ninth inning, closing the door for the Keys in their 11-4 win over the Williamsport Crosscutters.
“It makes it a little bit easier when the offense is clicking and you’re up 11-4, so I had a clear mind going out there, just trying to throw strikes,” said Stewart, who pitches collegiately for James Madison University. “It was a hot day, so I was trying to keep the ball in the zone, so they could put the ball in play, and we could get some quick outs.”
Thanks to the red hot Keys’ bats, Stewart was able to take the mound in a rather stress-free situation, inducing a ground ball and a pair of flyball outs to end the game.
Those hot Frederick bats were led by Ohio State shortstop Zach Dezenzo, who drove in a run on a sac fly in the seventh and three runs on a bases-clearing double in the second.
“He left a fastball up, and I was able to stay inside the ball and put a good swing on it,” Dezenzo said. “I was trying to hit it up the middle, and I was able to execute and help the team add three runs there.”
The Keys put together a 16-hit game as New Mexico State second baseman Kevin Jimenez, Kentucky third baseman Jacob Plastiak, and Purdue catcher Zac Fascia had three apiece. Fascia got the scoring started when he drove a two-run double down the right field line in the bottom of the first inning.
While the Keys bats lit up the scoreboard, the Frederick pitching staff did its best to limit the opportunities for the Crosscutters. Georgia Gwinnett righty Adam McKillican got the start, cruising through his first three innings, before an unexpected umpire delay forced him off the mound early in the fourth. University of Washington righty Jack Enger picked up the win, allowing just one baserunner over his 1.2 innings of relief. Then Australian-born Brodie Cooper-Vassalakis allowed just one run on one hit over his three innings of work, bridging the gap to Stewart, who shut the door with his three-up, three-down ninth inning.
“We’re on a little streak here, so after winning two in a row, the mindset was just to keep it going. We tried to play clean baseball all the way around, and we did that today,” Dezenzo said. “The bats are carrying the team a lot right now and the pitching is holding teams to just a few runs which is all around good baseball.”
Stewart, Dezenzo, and co. are all draft-eligible prospects, who hope to hear their names called at an upcoming MLB Draft, potentially as early as July 11 of this year.
After a reorganization of Minor League Baseball following the 2020 season, the Keys are playing the 2021 season as a founding member of the MLB Draft League—a summer showcase league for draft-eligible prospects. The league hopes to prepare players for what professional baseball looks like, while allowing MLB scouts an opportunity to see rosters full of MLB prospects compete against each other all season long.
“It’s been a really fun experience. It gets you a minor league mindset: traveling all the time, getting off the bus around 2 a.m. and playing that very same day,” Stewart said. “It really is a blessing to be able to come out here and not have to worry about anything but baseball. It’s been a lot of fun.”
|Anthony Herron Jr.||4||1||0||1||1||2|
|Jack Enger (W)||1.2||0||0||0||0||3|
|Chase Costello (L)||1.2||7||6||6||3||1|