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Whisler: Minor league baseball still celebrated

Commentary

The State College Spikes launched their #SaveOurSpikes campaign on Thursday morning and the formation of the project has led to a lot of uncertainty around the future of the franchise and the current minor league system as a whole, with 42 teams in danger of losing Major League Baseball affiliation.

Three teams in Pennsylvania are directly affected by the proposed cuts, including the Spikes, the Williamsport Crosscutters and the Erie SeaWolves.

The proposal by Major League Baseball has been touted as a restructuring of the current minor league system, which in turn could do some good by fighting against unfair wages that some players are paid, but overall the idea of gutting 42 affiliates, especially some that have rich history and have proud fanbases like State College, are far from a perfect situation.

In all, cutting 42 teams wouldn’t change the fact that player salaries in the minor leagues are low. There would still be too many players in too many locations to make a substantial difference.

The Spikes’ fight is unique, as the team unveiled on Thursday that it is willing to do whatever it takes to remain an affiliated baseball team. Spikes’ general manager Scott Walker made it clear that the organization is willing to make changes, as Walker said that the team would explore any options to remain affiliated, including becoming a full-season team, which would mean games in April and May.

A full minor league schedule varies by the level of the affiliation and the league they play in. The Double A Eastern League that is home to the Harrisburg Senators and Altoona Curve typically play a 142-game schedule. A typical full-season minor league year includes 110 or more games.

It was no accident that Walker repeated the word affiliated all afternoon. It’s simply the key to future success as a business and for the team to continue its partnership with Penn State, as well as the local community.

Independent baseball is not an option for a team, because without MLB affiliation, the team would have to not only manage its day-to-day operations, it would have to pay its players, coaches and staff. This would result in inflated ticket prices and the draw of future big leaguers would no longer be present.

The current minor league system has its flaws, but the Spikes are a cornerstone of the community in State College, as are many of the other teams that are being threatened by the proposed cuts.

The Spikes are entering their 15th season of baseball and I expect that fan support will be extremely high. Walker said on Thursday that in order to save the team, fans will have to come to the ballpark first and foremost. The Spikes also need fans to write letters to their elected officials and they need fans to purchase their merchandise.

Minor League baseball has always been a big part of my life. I worked for the Harrisburg Senators for three seasons in college, and I have always gone to baseball games at all levels with my father.

Baseball is a big part of the summer atmosphere in my family, and I have spent numerous nights at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park with my fiancÈe and her family, and I have had the pleasure of covering games for The Sentinel. One of my best friends even won a game on the field for a free trip to Myrtle Beach.

The Spikes run a top-notch organization. In my experiences, the team and its staff are extremely genuine in everything that they do, from the inclusion of Josiah Viera with the team to the family fun entertainment and the entertaining between innings skits and games, the Spikes do family fun and baseball better than most.

If the Spikes are trailing late in a game, the Rally Rooster is coming out. The rooster is typically an intern in a rough looking rooster costume, standing on the dugout encouraging fans to root for the home team.

The Nookie Monster, a sponsored mascot that comes out of the Nook in the outfield wall after the Spikes score, is a unique and fun part of Spikes’ games for kids, along with mascot Ike The Spike.

As a 24-year-old, I don’t remember a lot of memories of growing up without the Spikes, but I do know that the team has made a difference in the summer for people in Lewistown, not to mention State College. Spikes games are and remain a popular activity for summer nights.

Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is one of the nicest facilities I’ve ever been to, and certainly perhaps the nicest stadium in Pennsylvania, along with Altoona’s Peoples Natural Gas Field, formerly known as Blair County Ballpark, famous for the rollercoaster beyond the right-field wall.

The Spikes have rich history and mean a lot to people in the area. Losing the team after 2020 would leave a huge void in a Happy Valley summer.

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