Stars aligning in Altoona for big game

The Curve are confident they will have a sellout for Wednesday’s Eastern League All-Star Game, but they’re not there yet, and plenty of good seats remain for the contest at Peoples Natural Gas Field.

“I’m confident in the community,” Curve general manager Rob Egan said. “I’m confident that they’ll continue to support this as a huge event.

“We know the community has responded initially (with ticket sales), they’re going to respond throughout the course of the early part of the week,” Egan added. “We know that central Pennsylvanians take pride in hosting big events and want to be part of big events.”

The Curve hosted the EL All-Star Game in 2006, and that certainly was a big event. It drew 9,308 fans, which was the ballpark record until it was surpassed by last year’s crowd of 10,116 for the Pirates exhibition game.

PNG Field seats 7,210, which is the sellout figure, but many games over the years have far eclipsed that number as the spacious ballpark has ample room for more fans. Just nine days ago the Curve drew a crowd of 8,845 on the Fourth of July, the sixth-largest regular season crowd in franchise history.

It remains to be seen if Wednesday’s event, which has required an enormous amount of preparation by Curve staffers for more than a year, will bring in the kind of huge crowd that has been anticipated.

The biggest difference between the All-Star Game and a regular-season Curve contest is the sheer volume of talent that will be on the field.

The Mirror studied the rosters of the past five EL All-Star Games and found that 129 of the 232 players who have participated have gone on to play in the major leagues. That’s a staggering 56 percent, and the number ultimately will top 60 percent when more players from the past couple of years ascend to the big leagues.

From a fan’s perspective, and what the Curve are accentuating in their marketing, is that Wednesday’s game will provide an opportunity to see a large collection of the game’s best young stars right here in Altoona.

There also will be six Curve players participating in the game, so fans will have a lot of local flavor to cheer for Wednesday.

“It’s definitely going to be exciting,” Curve assistant GM Matt Hoover said of hosting the contest. “We’ve been working on this pretty much since April 1 of last year, and it’s going to be a fun time.”

Along with the All-Star Game, the Curve are hosting a unique event Tuesday night as several former players will be back in town to play a charity softball game against the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. Curve legend Adam Hyzdu will be taking part in the game, along with former Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson, among others.

“We want the fans to have memories of this,” Egan said. “We know this is really important. It’s not just important for the now. It’s important for the future of people’s memories for the experience they have on Tuesday and Wednesday at the ballpark because they’re going to talk about it for 15, 20, 30 years from now with their kids and their grandkids.”

It was eight years ago that the All-Star Game was in Altoona. Egan was asked if that’s enough time to have elapsed before bringing it back, and whether it hurts the event’s appeal as special.

“There certainly can be times where it’s too close, if you host it three or four years before and then host it again,” Egan said. “That may be asking a little much of your community to support a similar thing twice within a short time frame. We feel like eight years is a pretty long time frame.”

Kids around age 10, he added, won’t have any memories of the last All-Star Game in Altoona, so an eight-year span allows for that aspect. There also are only 12 teams in the EL, and since some teams don’t want to host the contest, Altoona’s turn in the rotation might have to be around every eight years or so.

“I think it’s an honor,” Egan said of hosting. “It says that you’re a franchise within the league that is really proud to host the league’s signature game, that you’re proud of the area in which you play, you’re proud of the ballpark in which you play, and we’re certainly proud of the support we get from our fan base.

“So all of those things put together, it just made so much sense to us when we heard that there was an opportunity to host an All-Star Game that we really leapt at the opportunity.”

From a business perspective, the Curve are responsible for most expenses for the All-Star Game. Some of the major expenses include providing travel for players to Altoona and back to where their team will be playing on Thursday, as well as hotel accommodations in town.

There is an added financial benefit to the community. The players and league executives number roughly 125 visitors and will account for about 50 hotel rooms per night for two nights. Many family members of players also will visit, which means more hotel rooms sold, along with added money spent in town at restaurants and local merchants.

The Curve have several sponsors to help out with their large expenses, and the franchise keeps all money made off the game. Egan said the club will make a profit off the contest.

One member of the Curve staff is preparing to host a second consecutive EL All-Star Game. Mark Milligan, director of creative services and the one in charge of the videoboard operation at the ballpark, worked in New Britain last year when that franchise hosted the contest. He said the Curve have been “so much more prepared and on top of things” than the Rock Cats were in taking care of all the aspects and issues that must be handled to host the event.

“I’m getting married in the fall, and everyone says getting married is kind of like Christmas, where there’s all this buildup and all this panic, and then it happens and it’s over,”Milligan said. “That’s kind of like what the All-Star Game is like, where it’s just this spring that winds up tighter and tighter and tighter, and then the game happens and the spring erupts and it’s gone.”

Mirror intern Matt Michelone contributed to this story.