Spikes ready to start season under St. Louis affiliation

UNIVERSITY PARK – Everyone has at some point in time heard the saying “what goes around, comes around,” and for the State College Spikes, that coming around began Sunday afternoon at Medlar Field.

In the initial season for the Spikes (2006), the team was affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. Since that time, the affiliation was with the Pittsburgh Pirates until the conclusion of the 2012 campaign.

Now that the 2013 season is about to begin, the young Redbirds are once again in town and the management of the Spikes is excited about the return of the St. Louis Cardinal farmhands.

“All during the offseason we have been looking ahead to working with the Cardinals,” Spikes Senior Vice President/General Manager Jason Dambach said. “Now that it is here with the great group of young guys they have sent to us along with (manager) Oliver Marmol who has been terrific to work with only increases the anxiety level of getting the season started. Even in the first few days that the team and some of the Cardinals people have been here you notice there is something different about the way the St. Louis Cardinals operate. Seeing that, it is easy to understand how successful they have been developing talent, winning National League pennants and World Series titles. There is a culture that starts in the low minors, and as a minor leaguer in the Cardinals system, it stays with you. We are excited to be a part of that and this is a great marriage, one that we are excited to get back doing.”

As for Marmol, he is excited and ready to get a good start out of the blocks to run the race.

“We had a lot of these guys in extended (spring training),” Marmol said. “The young guys who we acquired in the draft see how we do things, get accustomed to it and then just roll with it. We are going to try and build chemistry as we go through the season and we are looking forward to it.”

When Marmol was asked how he and his staff view the young crop of Redbirds, he said, “We are really excited about these guys as a staff. We have some guys who we think are going to have solid breakout years. Right now, we are excited about the guys who have been with the program as well as those who we got in the draft.”

Highlighting the 2013 Spikes roster will be 18-year-old Carson Kelly, the second round draft choice of the Cardinals in 2012. Kelly will join United States Navy veteran Mitch Harris and six players who were with the Batavia Muckdogs last year as the Spikes prepare for tonight’s season opener with the Williamsport Crosscutters.

Kelly, rated by Baseball America as the ninth-best prospect in the Cardinals organization prior to the season, joins the Spikes after spending the initial portion of this year with the Single-A Peoria Chiefs. The Portland, Ore. native hit nine home runs and drove in 25 runs in 56 games with the rookie-level Johnson City Cardinals last year in his professional debut. Kelly was the Gatorade High School Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012 at Westview High School in Portland.

“I feel that coming in here with a year under my belt is a big advantage for me by just knowing what to expect,” Kelly said. “I feel we have a great team and we are playing in a great league so I am very excited to get things going.”

Kelly also thinks he will be able to share his experience with some of the players who are just starting their professional careers.

“I can relate to them the information that I have learned over the years,” Kelly said. “What I learned from the first game of my career to now is not to freak out. It is definitely exciting, but at the same time, you have to be able to control yourself. It is my second opening day and hopefully it will be a good experience for everybody.”

While Kelly will be the youngest Spike player this year (18), Harris will be the oldest player to ever wear a Spikes uniform. Harris, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, makes his professional debut this season. The 27-year-old was drafted by the Cardinals in the 13th round in 2008, but served his mandatory five-year active duty commitment to the Navy following his graduation from Annapolis. After being released from his commitment in January, Harris rejoined the Cardinals and is looking forward to his first official in game action since May of 2008.

“Ever since we got here we just can’t wait for Monday to come around,” Harris said. “For me I can’t even put it into words how anxious I am and how much I am looking forward to get out on the field and play again.”

Knowing that he would have to put his baseball career on hold as a result of his commitment to the armed forces, Harris said although it was difficult to deal with at times, he fully understood the choice he had made.

“It was tough for me, knowing that I wanted to play ball and that the Cardinals were going to let me play ball,” Harris said. “But also knowing that I had time that I had to give back made it tough at times. I knew what I had signed up for and that I had to complete my commitment whether it was two years or five years. I just tried to keep my body in shape so that when I needed to get my arm back in shape I wouldn’t have anything that was going to break down. I really pushed myself to do everything that I could, but staying in shape and remaining focused were the biggest challenges I faced so that when my job with the Navy was done I would be able to get back in the same shape I was in when I was drafted.”

Spikes fans will also see some familiar faces as pitcher Ben O’Shea, catcher Adam Lewis, infielders Bruce Caldwell and David Washington, and outfielders Steven Ramos and Matthew Young return to the New York-Penn League. The six Cardinals farmhands played for the Batavia Muckdogs last year, with all but Caldwell playing at Medlar Field as members of the visiting team in 2012.

The Spikes will also welcome eight players who were members of the rookie-level Johnson City team that made the Appalachian League playoffs under current Spikes manager Marmol in 2012. Pitchers Juan Bautista, Victor DeLeon, Willy Paulino and Jeff Rauh are joined by infielders Kelly, Trevor Martin and Cesar Valera in the ranks of players making the move to State College from Johnson City. Outfielder Ronald Castillo completes the group of eight Johnson City players to make the trip to central Pa.

A healthy group of 2013 Cardinals draft picks have also been working out with the Spikes prior to opening night. Pitchers Jimmy Reed, (sixth round, University of Maryland), Andrew Pierce (eighth round, Southern Miss.), Nick Petree (ninth round, Missouri State University), Chase Brookshire (20th round, Belmont University), Kyle Webb (32nd round, Elon University) and Kevin Herget (39th round, Kean University), are all on the workout roster.

Catcher Luke Voit, a resident of the St. Louis suburb of Wildwood, Mo., will also be part of the Spikes’ workouts after being taken in the 22nd round of this year’s draft out of Missouri State, where he was Petree’s teammate. Voit will be joined by University of Kansas catcher Alex DeLeon, who was drafted by the Cardinals in the 23rd round.

Pitcher Johnny Polanco will also be on the Spikes’ roster after making eight mound appearances for Single-A Peoria earlier this season.

The Spikes will open the 2013 season tonight when they host arch-rival Williamsport. First pitch for that contest is set for 7:05 p.m.