Three weeks ago, a group of young men were signed to the State College Spikes for their first stop in professional baseball.
When the Spikes take the field on Monday night in Williamsport at Bowman Field against the Williamsport Crosscutters, the team will start its three-month short season with a packed schedule.
There are seven familiar faces returning to the Spikes this summer, but for the rest of the new Spikes players this 2012 season, their varying talents will lend to a new mix for the team.
“I think you’re going to see a little different complexion to this club than what you’ve seen the past,” Manager Dave Turgeon said.
Minor League Baseball’s new signing rules have allowed the club to get together before going to instructional league.
With the drafting deadline moved from August to July, short-season teams like the Spikes are able to compile their team roster with top picks faster.
Turgeon said he liked the combination of new arrivals, the hold-overs and Gulf Coast League players.
“New arrivals always bring energy,” Turgeon said. “New arrivals with college experience bring stability.”
Arriving only 24 hours prior to Sunday’s practice, outfielder Barrett Barnes took the field with his new teammates equipped with a chipper attitude and optimism for the season. Barrett played ball for Texas Tech University last season and recorded a .319 batting average.
Now Barnes finds himself at the first step of the next step.
“He’s probably a little overwhelmed right now with the environment and the attention,” Turgeon said.
Barnes wasn’t wearing the only bright-eyed face on the field Sunday afternoon. Right-handed pitcher Luis Heredia, only 17, was far from home in State College, as he hails from Mazatlan, Mexico. A translator communicated that Heredia was out of his element, but excited all the same for the short season ahead.
Heredia will be the youngest player to take Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The 6-foot-6 young gun has been ranked the fifth-best prospect in the Pirates system by Baseball America this year.
For most of these players, this is the first and perhaps only shot at professional baseball.
“I’ve been dreaming about this since I could remember, since I was a little kid, and it’s a reality now,” Barnes said.
The Spikes are trying to rebound from a 31-44 2011 campaign.
There is some change occurring at Medlar Field separate from the infusion of new players, too.
For starters, this could be the Spikes’ last season as a Pirates affiliate. The team said they will not negotiate a player development contract extension with the Pirates during this season, so they might be operating under a new big league club next season.
In other team news, mascot Ike the Spike has entered the championship round of MiLB Mascot Mania where he will match up against Orbit of the Albuquerque Isotopes, a Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. A testament to the support of State College fans, Ike the Spike has made an impressive run in the contest. Ike the Spike, Nittany Bank Nookie Monster, and Bob the Baseball Dog will all be present to start of the 2012 season in the home opener against the Crosscutters.
As it is a year for new beginnings in State College, the first pitch of the Spikes’ home opener on Tuesday against the Crosscutters will be thrown by Penn State football’s new head coach Bill O’Brien. The game will end with one of the dozen post-game firework shows this summer.