STATE COLLEGE - When the first pitch comes off the mound in the 2009 New York Penn League All-Star game tonight, it will be the culmination of a year and a half of work on the part of the host State College Spikes.
But for the Spikes organization, it truly will be a payoff pitch, executive vice president Rick Janac said - and he wasn't talking about the gate. The all-star game, he said, gives the Spikes and the community at large a chance to be seen in a positive light.
"That's one of the great opportunities hosting this game, not only showing off our operation and how we run a minor league baseball game, but showing off this beautiful facility," Janac said. "Outside of that, it's an opportunity to showcase the community as well. It's an opportunity for people to get to see State College and Centre County, the flavor of the university and Penn State.
"It's all those things. It's really a chance for us to put our best foot forward."
Game day activities begin when the games open at 3 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The game is scheduled to get under way at 7:15 p.m., after a home run derby, batting practice and autograph sessions.
Work toward the all-star game began in 2007, when the Spikes put in a bid to host this year's contest. Janac said it started with a presentation the team made to the league at that year's winter meetings.
"There were a number of teams that wanted to host the game as well," he said. "We made the presentation a the 2007 winter meetings, and then got it awarded right after that," and was announced at SpikesFest in early 2008.
Although much of the groundwork was laid over the 18-month span since the game was awarded to State College, the past week has been among the busiest. Not only were there two days of activities surrounding the game (Sunday's downtown fan festival, and Monday's VIP event at Tussey Mountain), but there were the necessary details that could not be accomplished any sooner.
For example, Janac explained, final travel plans could not be cemented until all the players on both the American League and National League rosters were known - which was barely a week ago. Even more important, the special uniforms that will be worn during batting practice - and then auctioned off - could not be made without the names.
"It's a lot of details, obviously, making sure all the elements of the game itself are in place," he said. "While we can do a lot of planning and travel coordination to a point, we have to know how many players are coming from each team and who those players are before we can firm up all the details. When that stuff gets handed down like it did last week, you have seven days to go into a mode of making sure everything's going to be ready."
It may be a lot of work, but it's work that Janac feels had a positive effect in the front office and beyond.
"I think it's been something that, quite honestly, has been energizing to the organization. To have something like this to look forward to all year has been a lot of fun," he said. "I think it's a prideful thing for the organization and the staff to take this whole game on and show everyone what type of organization we are. I think it's going to be the same way for our fans, too."
Ultimately, he said, tonight's game is just another step the Spikes have taken on behalf of their biggest asset - fans.
"First of all, you want to make sure that we continue to offer a great value and entertainment for the families. That's first and foremost," Janac said. "We're never satisfied. We understand we're stewards of this organization and want to continue to make sure that it's something people can be proud of."