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Minor League Baseball not leaving State College

The State College Spikes are scheduled to return to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in May of 2021, but the team will no longer be part of the New-York Penn League or have a specific affiliation with a Major League Baseball franchise.

Spikes chairman and managing partner Chuck Greenberg announced Monday that his team, which won NYPL titles in 2014 and 2016, will now be part of the new Major League Baseball Draft League as one of the founding six members.

“The last year has been stressful in so many ways,” Greenberg said. “Even before the pandemic hit, there were questions about the future of the Spikes and the future of the New York-Penn League, and they weighed heavily. We were sure that no matter what, the Spikes were going to continue, but I’d be misleading everyone if I didn’t say I was concerned about the platform that we would have to be able to do that. The creation of the Major League Baseball Draft League and a continued affiliation with Major League Baseball is what I’d hoped for and more. I truly believe this is a step forward for the Spikes.”

The league, which will be comprised of the Spikes and three other former New York-Penn League members including the Williamsport Crosscutters, Mahoning Valley Scrappers and West Virginia Black Bears along with former Eastern League member Trenton Thunder (which will be replaced in the EL by new Yankees AA affiliate the Somerset Patriots) and one more yet-to-be-announced franchise, will feature draft-eligible players in a setting with a Major League Baseball affiliation.

“For the first time, there will be a forum and a performance opportunity for draft-eligible players to show what they can do in the most elite of circumstances,” Greenberg said. “They will compete against one another, head-to-head, in the months leading up to the draft. As a baseball fan, this is really exciting. As the principal owner of the Spikes, it’s also really excited. It’s everything that has been great about Spikes baseball and more. This is an updated, more intense version of everything that has made Spikes baseball great. All of the things that made it a great experience at the park will continue.”

Since the Spikes began play in State College in 2006, the franchise has had 62 players go on to play Major League Baseball. Greenberg thinks that number will increase greatly playing in the new league.

“We believe going forward, the concentration of Major League Baseball-level talent will be even greater,” Greenberg said. “We’ll have young players, mostly all college players, coming from all around the country to one of the ultimate college towns in the country to show what they can do and establish that they should be drafted.”

Major League Baseball Draft League President Kerrick Jackson said fans attending games in State College this summer can expect a similar on-field product when the league begins in late May.

“The level of talent and ability that these players have is going to be similar if not greater than what you have watched previously,” Jackson said. “We wanted to create an opportunity for these kids to keep playing, because the draft has been moved back. You can’t take a layoff from the game and still go out and produce. Now, there’s a window of a month and a half where these kids could have their college season end and have a large window before the draft, and this league holds substantial value to them for that.”

There’s also a chance fans may see some players with local connections suiting up for the Spikes this season.

“Talent will be distributed among the six teams in an equitable fashion to ensure that everyone is competitive, but there will be priority placed on local affiliations,” Greenberg said. “If there are outstanding local players who grew up in the area and are now playing elsewhere, there’s a good chance we’ll see them with the Spikes. If there are Penn State players who are draft eligible and ready to play at that level, we’re confident they’ll be with the Spikes.”

Keeping the Spikes in town and providing State College with the extra revenue that will come with 34 home games in the 68-game season could help the town recover from a devastating loss of funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

“We have lost about $132 million in business spending to date, and we’ve still got about 1,600 employees in the leisure and hospitality business who are out of a job,” President and CEO of The Happy Valley Adventure Bureau Fritz Smith said. “We feel that the turnaround is starting. We’re hoping for a terrific 2021. The one sector that we haven’t seen a decline in interest in this area is sports. There’s a demand for people that want to participate in amateur and high school camps in all sports. Sports are in our DNA here, and it would have been unthinkable to not have the Spikes back next year. I think this new league will draw interest and attention.”

Though the league is geared toward draft-ready college players, occasional high school athletes may have the chance to participate.

“We’re gearing more toward college players, but we will bring in the occasional elite high school player,” Jackson said. “Specifically, I’m talking about maybe kids from Pennsylvania that maybe don’t get to play as much because of weather and didn’t get seen as much as they needed to be seen.”

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