It’s Opening Day
For the last year or so, State College has been anxiously awaiting today. It’s Opening Day for the State College Spikes, a short season baseball team in the New York/Penn League. About 15 months ago, Penn State announced that they had structured a deal with a minor league baseball group (fyi – Jerome Bettis and Mario Lemieux are part owners) to build a new stadium that would be shared between the University’s baseball team and a, to-be-named-later, short season team.
That started a whirlwind of activity. Fifteen months ago, the deal to place a team here was announced. Thirteen months ago, they broke ground on the stadium. A year ago today, the site looked like this:
Six months later, things were taking shape:
Today we have this:
As hectic as building the stadium was, so was putting together a team. The plan wasn’t to put together a brand new team but rather to buy an existing franchise and move it to State College. Last summer was spent shopping around for the appropriate team and in December, it was announced that the group had bought the New Jersey Cardinals and would move the team from Augusta NJ to State College. The NJ ballclub is a St Louis Cardinals affiliate and the State College team will be also (at least it will be for one year, the duration of the contract that the team still has with the Cardinals – there is a substantial rumor going around that the Spikes will sign a new deal with the Pirates next year – that rumor is fueled in part by the fact that the Spike’s ball park dimensions are exactly the same as PNC Park, Pittsburgh’s home field – many think that’s no coincidence).
So by last winter we had a ballpark and its way and a team. Well, sort of a team – we had the rights to a team but really didn’t have any players. Short season teams are filled primarily with new players who have just been selected in Major League Baseball’s draft. This years draft was held Tuesday and Wednesday a week ago. Players were assigned to the team last week and started arriving in State College over the weekend. Stragglers are still coming in (example – tonight’s opening game starting pitcher arrived from California last night). The team’s actual roster wasn’t announced until Sunday night.
Everything culminates with opening night tonight and the town is abuzz. Tonight’s opener has been sold out for months (I have season tickets so I’m set) as have the next two weekends. The town definitely has baseball fever as witnessed by all these articles.
The excitement has been building, the tingling sense of anticipation turning central Pennsylvania baseball fans into kids on Christmas Eve.The State College Spikes open their inaugural season in a brand-new ballpark tonight.
The Renegades’ general manager, Dave Burke, said relocating the former Cardinals to the Keystone State will greatly benefit the league as a whole.”I think it was a fabulous move,” Burke said. “The hype in State College is unbelievable. They’re going to sell out most of their games.”
Tulane baseball coach Rick Jones guarantees State College Spikes first baseman Mark Hamilton and outfielder Nathan Southard are prepared to handle the rigors of professional baseball.”There’s no question about it,” Jones said. “Baseball is a game of adjustments and these guys made the ultimate adjustment.”
Southard and Hamilton were forced to make the ultimate adjustment last August when Hurricane Katrina swept through Tulane’s New Orleans campus.
Tickets were sold a month ago. Players arrived three days ago. The opponent will arrive sometime this afternoon.Yes, this professional baseball stuff in State College has finally become real.
The New Jersey Cardinals — the team the Spikes are replacing — used 51 players, including 27 pitchers, in 2005.Some players that appear in tonight’s opener against the Williamsport Crosscutters might not be here next week. Some players that are playing elsewhere this week could be here next week.
I’m hungry for baseball – even moreso after seeing the Spike’s concession menu. For dinner tonight I think I’m going to have a “Walking Taco” followed by a “Deep Fried Twinkie” for dessert. 🙂