Caught Dead/Stadium by Night a Field of Screams
by Nathan Oravec
While fortune may favor the brave, valiant visitors to Frederick’s Harry Grove Stadium on dark evenings of late may find themselves catching a cold case of dread when faced with bloodcurdling terror at every turn. For here, recently dugout from their burial plots infield, the dead walk; and those of whom they run a foul will find their breath short, stopping their heart for an instant before fear strikes again and they must run home.
According to Chris McMurry, Communications Manager for the Frederick Keys Baseball Club, this is the first year that Field of Screams - a unique “haunted house” event - has been held at the Harry Grove Stadium. A collaborative effort between the Keys and The Frederick Jaycees - a leadership training organization for young men and women 21-39 advocating personal skills and community involvement - the concept was originally created by a Bowie, Maryland company, Tulip Gulch, which had long run a haunted attraction from the Bowie Baysox Stadium. The Keys - an affiliate of the Baysox, both owned by parent company Comcast-Spectator - contacted them for consultation about launching a similar event at their home base, Harry Grove. “They were more than willing to come on-board,” says McMurry.
Known throughout Frederick for their previous trademark spooking - having formerly operated one of the city’s most revered Halloween haunted events - the Jaycees were sought by the ball club in hopes that they might reclaim that old black magic – they did. “[We knew] they would be the group to do it,” says McMurry. “They’ve done a lot to put this together.”
Keys fans and ticket holders may not recognize their stadium, which for the last two weekends has undergone a wicked transformation with the setting of the sun and the rising of the moon. “Anyone approaching the front gate will be seeing a different Harry Grove than they’re used to.” Here, seasonal spectre-seekers, numbed by the excesses of regular regional fare, are in for a new kind of fright. “From the moment visitors enter our holding cell until the moment they leave, it’s approximately a 15-20 minute experience. But for some people, that’s going to be a long fifteen minutes,” laughs McMurry. “We definitely keep you guessing what’s going to happen next.”
Traversing the corpse-strewn corridors of the facility, mist and fog permeates those areas where daylight once shined, while leagues of the undead await the unsuspecting; after all, the concession stand is closed. Lightning strikes as escapees navigate possessed bridges; frantically making their way - running, screaming - to the clubhouse and locker room, and hopefully, freedom.
“There are many characters, including former ballplayers, whose spirits, for one reason or another, are still hanging around the stadium,” says McMurry. “It’s great, because it allows us to play off the baseball theme, which is part of the charm of the event. It all comes down to baseball.”
On any given night, approximately 25 actors - Jaycees and Keys alike - comprise the roster of ghouls, ghosts and goblins, both tour-guiding and terrifying patrons. Their participation is completely voluntary, and McMurry notes that volunteers are always needed and welcome. McMurry, himself, plays a horrific host going by the name of Fat Jack, his first foray into theatrics. “It’s a fun thing to get to do.”
From enlisting actors and creating gory special effects to setting the mood with blaring sound from the stadiums PA system and building a bon-a-fide haunted bridge, Field of Screams has been a substantial undertaking, but one that McMurry believes will be a successful one. “We opened on October 10, and we’ve had a very successful first couple of weeks. Even with opening so early in the month, we’re extremely pleased with the turnout so far,” he says. “I think it will be the first of many.”
“There’s a misconception,” he notes, “that the staffs of ballparks only work half a year. Honestly, we’re just as busy off-season because of events like this.” Already, Harry Grove has hosted WWE Wrestling during 2002-2003 and was the venue for last year’s Blues Festival in Frederick. The stadium served as the site for the first-ever Mid-Maryland Music Fest showcasing local talent in August and is currently in the final stages with the city to have the Frederick Marathon end at home plate. Big happenings are in the works - something for everyone to enjoy, assuming, that is, they survive October’s offering.
“The best thing for me personally, has been seeing people legitimately scared by what we’re doing here,” says McMurry. “As a non-actor, when you get into something like this you’re not sure if you know how to scare someone.”
“Trust me,” he continues. “If you get it dark enough and set the right mood - it’s easy.”
Spoken like a true ghoul.
Field of Screams, presented by The Frederick Keys and The Frederick Jaycees, will be held at Harry Grove Stadium, 21 Stadium Drive in Frederick, on October 24, 25, 27-31, and November 1 from 7-10:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids 14 and under. (Half-price tickets will be offered October 27-29.) Tickets can be purchased at the Keys Ticket Office, by phone at 301-815-9900, or toll free at 1-877-8-GO-KEYS. Discounted rates are available for groups of ten or more. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Frederick Jaycees leadership development projects. The event has been rated PG-14. Visit www.frederickkeys.com.