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Spikes rally to save franchise

State College team on list to be cut by MLB

UNIVERSITY PARK — The State College Spikes are fighting back to save their franchise from what one prominent local politician called a “wrong” decision by Major League Baseball to seek contraction of dozens of minor league teams around the country.

“The first step is to make Major League Baseball understand how wrong they are in their thinking,” State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, said during Thursday’s “Save Our Spikes” rally at the Centre County Visitor Center.

News broke in October that Major League Baseball is considering contracting 42 minor league franchises, and in November, the Spikes showed up on the list of teams to be cut.

A primary focus of MLB’s plan is to reduce the overall number of minor league players and teams, particularly at the rookie and short-season levels. The Spikes play in the short-season New York-Penn League, and nine of the 14 teams in the league are on the contraction list. Short-season teams play about half the number of games, compared with full-season teams.

There has been significant pushback to the idea in baseball circles, and even on a broader national scale. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is among those who have been outspoken against contraction.

Spikes officials began their grassroots campaign to fight for their survival on Thursday, laying out a multi-layer plan to show Major League Baseball how important the franchise is to the community.

“Right now that is all in danger,” Spikes General Manager Scott Walker said.

“I don’t remember what it was like without the Spikes,” Walker, a Bellefonte native, added. “I grew up here, and I watched the ballpark being built, and I would hate to see us lose such a community treasure.”

The team will celebrate its 15th season this year, but it could be the last if the current MLB contraction plan goes through.

Numerous local political and business figures spoke Thursday on behalf of the Spikes. Gov. Tom Wolf also made a statement on the team’s behalf.

“Pennsylvania’s professional baseball affiliates help provide affordable, family friendly entertainment and improve the quality of life in each of their communities,” Wolf said in his statement. “The MLB’s antitrust exemption and exclusive control of local professional baseball operations unfortunately could make this decision life or death for these community teams.

“The MLB needs to do the right thing and recognize the value of community institutions like the State College Spikes that have been part of the league’s success.”

Teams in Williamsport and Erie also are among the 42 teams on the contraction list, so Pennsylvania stands to be hit hard if the MLB proposal goes through.

The Altoona Curve are not on the contraction list, and though they may not be greatly affected in noticeable ways, anything that impacts minor league baseball on a grand scale would impact all teams.

“The way I see it, it’s going to ever change minor league baseball no matter how it goes,” said Curve GM Derek Martin, who was on hand to support the Spikes on Thursday. “But we’re up for the fight.”

So are State College political and business figures.

“America’s pastime should be accessible to all Americans, and any plan to eliminate 42 teams would be a great loss here in Centre County and across the country,” U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-15th District, said in a statement.

“Pennsylvania’s minor league baseball teams are cornerstones of our communities. It would be a huge loss to this local economy of major league baseball’s proposal moves forward,” Neil Weaver, Pennsylvania community & economic development executive director, said Thursday.

Corman, the state senate majority leader, said it can’t be taken for granted that the Spikes will be around forever.

“Let’s show everyone what this team means to us,” Corman noted.

To do that, Walker suggested everyone visit the SaveOurSpikes.com website to find out ways to show their support. The number one thing, as with any business, is for patrons to show up.

“Buy tickets, buy tickets, buy tickets,” said Vern Squier, president and CEO of Chamber of Business & Industry of Centre County.

The Spikes are in danger because they play in a short-season league that very well could go away, not because of anything the team has done wrong. The club plays in a state-of-the-art facility, Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, that is considered one of the best in the nation in short-season baseball.

The team could conceivably save itself if it were to elevate from the short-season level and become a full-season minor league affiliate. Because of the quality ballpark and respected team front office, the Spikes likely would be able to find a home in a full-season league for the foreseeable future.

There are challenges, however, to going from short season to full season. The Spikes would be willing to do that, though, if necessary.

“We’re fully capable of doing that. … If it takes becoming a full-season team, I think we can figure it out, absolutely,” Walker said.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to save our Spikes.”

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