Opening Night: State College Spikes to Light up Medlar Field
Opening Night is here.
The State College Spikes are back at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for Tuesday’s 7:05 start against the Williamsport Crosscutters. But the Spikes enter their seventh season with an uncertain future.
The team has said it will not negotiate a player development contract extension with the Pittsburgh Pirates during the season, meaning come September, the team may be looking at a new club affiliate.
“That’s all offseason talk,” general manager Jason Dambach said Sunday at Spikes Media Day. “The focus right now is the team is here, the season is here, we’re opening the gates on Tuesday night. We prefer to focus on that . . . We can deal with the other issues later on.”
Dropping affiliation with the Pirates would most likely stem from not being able to field a competitive team, the franchise has said.
Affiliation negotiations come up on a two- and four-year basis, and generally, Dambach said, there’s a lot of movement.
But there is certain value in affiliating with a geographical fit. Having a club affiliate within driving distance to Pittsburgh can help attendance, which has dipped in State College in recent years. The ballpark outfield dimensions also mirror PNC Park, where the Pirates play.
“I’m a huge Pirates fan, and all of us who work here are huge Pirate fans,” Dambach said. “A lot of us grew up in Western Pa. I don’t think I’d enjoy my job as much if I wasn’t working for the Pirates like I’ve done for the last 14 years. It’s all I know.”
But business is business.
The Spikes are 156-220 since becoming an affiliate of the Pirates, including Monday night’s 6-2 loss at Williamsport in the season opener. Attendance is on the downswing, a natural attrition, Dambach said, as the club begins its seventh season in State College.
“To be drawing 3,700-3,800 a game in State College is still very successful,” Dambach said. “We came out of the gate very strong, and it’s tough to keep that momentum going.”
There’s also optimism with the new Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft rules pushing up the signing deadline to mid-July, which could mean more high draft picks being imported to State College.
The Pirates first-round supplemental draft pick, Barrett Barnes, an outfielder from Texas Tech, is in State College.
Of course, Minor League Baseball does not lend itself to marketing around a certain prospect because he could be gone at any time.
But Tuesday is Opening Night, and the ballpark is ready. Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien will throw out the first pitch. There will be pitching and catching and hitting and fielding and baserunning, which is still a major reason why people come out to watch anyway.