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Campaign unveiled to save Spikes

State College ball team at risk of losing MLB-affiliated status

STATE COLLEGE — Facing a threat to their very existence, the State College Spikes held a press conference Thursday at the Centre County Visitor Center to unveil the #SaveOurSpikes campaign.

State legislators and representatives of congressmen joined Spikes general manager Scott Walker in support against a November proposal from Major League Baseball that threatens to eliminate affiliations for 42 minor-league baseball teams at the conclusion of the 2020 season.

Three Pennsylvania teams are on the list affected by the MLB’s proposal: the double-A Erie SeaWolves of the Eastern League (a Detroit Tigers affiliate), as well as the entire short-season, single-A New York-Penn League, which includes the Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia Phillies) and the Spikes (St. Louis Cardinals).

State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, expressed his support for the Spikes, along with Pennsylvania Community and Economic Development Executive Deputy Secretary Neil Weaver, who read a statement from Gov. Tom Wolf. Ann Kaufman read a statement from Rep. Fred Keller, R-Williamsport, whose district includes State College. A field representative for Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard, whose district includes much of Centre County, read a statement.

Penn State University Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour; Chair of the Centre County Board of Commissioners Michael Pipe; Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County President and CEO Vern Squier; Happy Valley Adventure Bureau president and CEO Fritz Smith; and Dave Bohner, grandfather of former Spikes’ Honorary Bench Coach Josiah Viera, were also in attendance.

“The Spikes front office staff and the wonderful staff at the Happy Valley Adventure Bureau, as well as the staff of the (Centre County Board of Commissioners) are fully prepared to do everything that we can in order to save our Spikes,” Walker said. “We are also very thankful for the support of our elected officials serving the community in Centre County, in Harrisburg and in Washington.”

Walker also made it clear that moving forward without affiliation, as has been proposed as part of the MLB plan for the affected teams, is not an option for the Spikes.

“We have to be affiliated,” Walker said. “Studies being done about independent league baseball show that it’s just not a viable option. They’re just not. We have to be affiliated in order to remain a key community partner and a partner of Penn State University. We have to be affiliated. Affiliation is everything.”

Walker expressed that the Spikes would be willing to do anything to keep their affiliation, including becoming a full-season team.

“I would say, through our partnerships with Penn State University, we are fully capable of doing that,” Walker said. “Logistically, we will do whatever it takes to save our Spikes. If it takes becoming a full-season team, I think we could figure that out.”

The NYPL’s 79-game schedule begins in June and runs through early September. Full-season leagues start in April instead.

Major-league affiliation involves the parent club (in the Spikes’ case, the St. Louis Cardinals) assigning developmental players to one of several minor-league clubs. The major-league club covers expenses like player and coach salaries, while the minor-league clubs are responsible for day-to-day operations of the team — such as ticket sales and concessions. The major-league club determines to which affiliate a player is assigned, when a player is to be assigned to a different affiliate, promoted to the major-league club or released.

Walker said Major League Baseball has not notified the Spikes about any specific changes since the November proposal and that the intent of this event was to put public support into action.

“The focus of the event was to really galvanize community support and show folks in the community how to materialize that support,” Walker said. “That’s why we created the website that very clearly shows steps to do so.”

Sen. Corman spoke about the creation of the franchise and how it has become a cornerstone of the State College community.

“I really didn’t at the time envision what a community-oriented success it would be,” Corman said of the Spikes. “I knew it would be popular, but the Spikes have become part of the community and part of the family of Centre County and it’s not something I necessarily envisioned, but it’s been fantastic to watch it grow over the last 15 years.

“In any healthy community, entertainment events for the family are very important to have,” he continued. “When you try to get people to move into the community you need these types of things for families to enjoy. If there’s one thing about the Spikes, it’s a family-oriented event. It’s hard to imagine with all of the success that we have had that we are now facing this moment.”

The #SaveOurSpikes campaign included the launch of a website, www.saveourspikes.com, which is being used to promote what Walker revealed as a five-step plan to salvage the future of affiliated baseball in State College. The plan encourages fans to promote the website, write elected officials, buy 2020 tickets, wear 15th-season Spikes’ merchandise and display #SaveOurSpikes signage that will be handed out throughout 2020.

Corman continued about State College’s ability to support a team: “The first step is to let Major League Baseball understand how wrong they are in their thinking, and thanks to the governor and the congressional delegation, they’ve already jumped up quickly to state to Major League Baseball that this is not smart thinking on their part,” he said. “That’s the first component to fight back to Major League Baseball to make them rethink their plan going forward with Minor League Baseball.

“The big thing is to let everyone know that State College is a place that can and will support a minor-league baseball team, and part of that is showing up to the ballpark,” he said. “We need to show up. We can’t take it for granted that the Spikes will be here forever.”

The Spikes franchise moved from New Jersey to State College in 2006 and the organization was created through a $14 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, as well as significant investments from Spikes ownership and Penn State University, according to Walker.

“It was Penn State University’s idea to create a state-of-the-art facility, which would become jointly operated as both the home of an affiliated minor-league baseball team and the Penn State baseball program,” Walker said. “Put simply, the ballpark would never have been built without the assurance of an affiliated minor-league baseball team occupying the same facility as the Penn State baseball program.”

State College has given back more than $5 million to the local community and raised more than $500,000 during the 2019 season, according to Walker.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, spoke about the importance of minor league baseball in State College and its lasting impact in a release.

“It’s hard to even articulate what this team and this stadium mean to our community,” he said. “We, as a commonwealth, have invested in the Spikes, and in return, the Spikes family has invested millions back into our community and local causes. The Spikes have become a beloved, irreplaceable part of Happy Valley. Let’s stand together, like only Happy Valley can, to make sure they’re around for a long, long time.”

The Spikes also announced a few changes for the 2020 season, including start times for the 15th season of Spikes baseball.

Fans have expressed interest in earlier start times, according to Walker, who said that the Spikes will now begin Monday-Friday games at 6:35 p.m. and have more Sunday-day games beginning at 4:05 p.m.

Overall, the support has been building in the last two months for State College, and Walker says he looks forward to working to ensure a future for Spikes baseball.

“We can come together to safeguard that investment that we have all made,” he said. “We remain committed to showcasing our ballpark as one of the finest and most modern in the country, featuring fan and player amenities that are at the top of the industry. We look forward to joining elected officials, community leaders, our great fans, our neighbors and all the members of the Spikes family in order to save our Spikes.”

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