STATE COLLEGE - The New York-Penn League season ended in September, but it's been a busy fall in the front offices at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
After announcing that the team will change its baseball affiliate starting next season from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the St. Louis Cardinals, the league recognized Spikes general manager Jason Dambach as the top executive in the NYPL.
The Robert Stedler Executive of the Year award is Dambach's second individual league award in his four seasons since joining the Spikes prior to the 2009 season. In 2010, he was named the winner of the NYPL's Robert F. Julian Community & Baseball Service Award for his dedicated service to the baseball industry and commitment to community involvement. Last year, Dambach and the entire Spikes were honored as the winner of the league's Vincent McNamara Outstanding Club Award.
"To be honored by your peers who know exactly what I do, albeit in different markets, it's a true honor, it really is," Dambach said. "I think it just speaks to what we've done here with the Spikes - not just what I've helped do, but what the whole franchise has done."
Dambach is very active among New York-Penn League general managers, serving as vice chair of the NYPL Charitable Foundation and directing the league's annual scholarship program, which provides more than $10,000 each year to graduating high school seniors from within the league's footprint. He is also a member of the league's schedule committee.
Dambach credits the Spikes front office for the accolades he and the team have received. The team has been able to retain its core staff from season to season, especially important when the Spikes have to compete with numerous activities in State College and its environs during the June to September season.
"It's a high turnover industry, no question about it. But I think what we've been able to create here is a good culture," he said. "It's a fun environment. Certainly it's a great place to live and call home. That's something I'm very proud of."
The 2013 season will mark Dambach's 15th season in Minor League Baseball, and his fifth as the leader of the Spikes' management team. The Punxsutawney native started in Altoona under the same ownership before coming here.
"We don't play in the largest market, that's for sure," he said. "We've got a great fan base. We've got a very active community."
And, while the team on the field has struggled through the eight seasons since it arrived, Dambach said he's created an experience that has given the Spikes success in the stands, with a product that appeals to fans - and even non-fans - of all ages.
Up next for Dambach is the transition from "The Bucs Start Here" to the first Card being dealt here, as the Spikes realign with the team that was their affiliate when it was established in 2006.
"We're really excited about the Cardinals. They were a great partner the first year of this franchise," Dambach said. "You're never happy when a relationship ends, like the Pirates, and we wish them nothing but the best."
How much so may be seen when their new affiliate, the Jamestown Jammers, visit State College for the first time in 2013.
"I'm sure some of the coaching staff will be back, some of the players will return. That'll be a lot of fun. That's what this business is all about - the relationships," he said. "Maybe we'll find a way to have fun promotionally with it, too - you never know."
Nine players from the 2006 team went on to the majors, and Dambach said "The fans here have always been partial to that original group of Spikes players."
He admitted fans will have to follow the players differently, now that they won't advance to nearby teams in West Virginia and Altoona - although, he said, the Curve may also lose out with the change.
"I think we sent a lot of people down their way - a lot of their players used to be Spikes players," he said. "It certainly changes the dynamic to some degree."
The team's success, though, will be defined not by who the parent club is, he said, but by the community that supports it.
"It's very important to make sure people know we're affiliated with Major League Baseball," Dambach said. "But I think we sense there are more Spikes fans. People like the Spikes because we're the Spikes."