I want you to picture this scene. It’s a beautiful summer day in Happy Valley and you have a cold drink in one hand and a hot dog in the other. You are relaxing while sitting with family and friends in one of the best minor league baseball stadiums in the country with a spectacular view of Mount Nittany in center field. There’s plenty of between-innings entertainment and your kids have their own play area in the ballpark with games and activities. There are fireworks after the game. You enjoyed all this at incredibly affordable prices.
I am describing one of the best entertainment values in the area. Taking in a Spikes baseball game from June-September has become a summer thing to do in Centre County. The Spikes are about to begin their 15th season in State College this summer.
Why am I bringing up a summer activity like baseball now? Because Major League Baseball is thinking of pulling its affiliation with 42 Minor League Baseball franchises and unfortunately our Spikes are currently on that list. In essence, we could be seeing the last season of Minor League Baseball in Happy Valley unless we all pitch in and be proactive in supporting our hometown franchise.
For those of you who have never been to a game or haven’t been to one in the last few summers, Spikes games are an affordable way to spend a great afternoon or evening with family and friends. You can buy quality food at reasonable prices, get local craft beers in the ballpark, purchase Creamery ice cream and take advantage of one of the many promotional giveaways, specials, and player autograph sessions. It really is an affordable, relaxing afternoon or evening of fun.
I recently attended the press conference for the announcement of the “Save Our Spikes” campaign held at the Visitors Center just a short walk down Porter Road from Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The room was packed with state and local officials, sponsors, season ticket holders and members of the media. I wanted to be there as a show of support for my friend Scott Walker, the Spikes’s general manager, and because I believe our little slice of the world in Happy Valley is made even better because we have our very own Minor League Baseball team.
Why should you care, especially in the middle of winter? Because action needs to take place now to have as many baseball and sports enthusiast’s voices to be heard. Spikes baseball attracts business to the area, it brings families together and it provides another fun activity for the residents of this area. It’s also an additional “quality of life” factor for recruiting and retaining business, education and healthcare professionals.
Baseball has been an integral part of my life. My father coached my brother and me throughout Little League, Pony League and Prep League baseball, and we have been attending Pirates games since I can remember. My father actually played Minor League Baseball for the Corning Royals in the same New York-Penn League in which the Spikes compete.
In fact, last summer the Spikes gave my then 87-year-old father, a Korean War veteran, a special treat by honoring him at a game and having him throw out the first pitch. I can’t begin to describe the emotions we all felt that day and the Spikes staff was amazing. The “Old Man” even threw a strike!
One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1989 baseball fantasy film “Field of Dreams.” My favorite scene is where Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, says to his father, “Hey Dad, you wanna have a catch?” Every time I see it, I tear up as it transports me back to my Little League days and the time I spent with my father and brother and our friends playing baseball. One of the most powerful lines in the movie is from James Earl Jones character in his deep, gravelly voice:
”The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game — it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Anyone who has followed the Spikes over the past few seasons knows the heart-warming story of the late Josiah Viera. A very impactful part of the program last week came from Dave Bohner, Josiah’s grandfather. Bohner told the story of Josiah’s brave battle with progeria, a rare, fatal genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children, and the special relationship his grandson had developed with the Spikes organization. Josiah was featured on an episode of ESPN’s E:60. Host Tom Rinaldi tells the inspirational story of Josiah’s fight against the rare and fatal aging disease, and how he helped fuel the Spikes 2016 title run.
Dave Bohner recalled several stories about Josiah’s experience with the Spikes including his appearance at the 2018 New York-Penn League All-Star game in State College. Josiah, the Spikes honorary bench coach, went out to the mound, by himself, for a call to the bullpen for a pitching change. The entire ballpark stood up and cheered for him including the players for each team. Dave said Josiah later said to him, “Pap, that was the best ever.” Dave asked why was this honor was different than his experience at the all-star game a year earlier? Josiah said, “We’re at home, Pap. There’s nothing like being at home.”
Josiah died on Christmas Eve in 2018 at the age of 14. On opening day of the 2019 season, the Spikes and their fans paid tribute to the club's honorary bench coach as his No. 10 jersey was retired in a pre-game ceremony. The Spikes players and staff were an integral part of Josiah’s life and his grandfather did a masterful job of telling the media and crowd assembled why saving the Spikes matters so much to him and his family.
Dave Bohner, father of Josiah Viera, at the launch of the Save Our Spikes campaign on Jan. 16. Photo by Joe Battista
This is a real community project that a lot of people in Central Pennsylvania can get behind. Vern Squire, CEO and President of the CBICC, gave perhaps the most important advice for what we residents can do to help the Spikes stay when he told the crowd, “Buy tickets, buy tickets, buy tickets!” On the SaveOurSpikes.com website there are six ways listed for fans to participate and help keep our team here: 1) Purchase 2020 ticket plans. 2) Write to elected officials. 3) Become an official sponsor. 4) Display #SaveOurSpikes signage. 5) Book a 2020 group event. 6) Purchase 15th season merchandise.
To join the #SaveOurSpikes campaign and become a financial supporter of this campaign, please contact Scott Walker, general manager of the Spikes ([email protected] | 814-272-1711).