The State College Spikes entered Minor League Baseball in 2006 as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, but the club quickly became affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates after the team’s inaugural season.
But each year, Cardinals Director of Player Development John Vuch and his staff wanted to return to Happy Valley. Sunday at midnight, St. Louis got that opportunity as Vuch and Spikes Chairman and Managing Partner, Chuck Greenberg, began immediately working out a new Player Development Contract to bring back an affiliation with the Cardinals through at least the 2014 New York-Penn League season.
“Every two years, when our PDC expired, and it was time to look around, all of our staff would say, ‘Can we see if State College is available? We would love to go back there,’” Vuch said. “This time, we look around and we were pleasantly surprised to see that State College was open.”
When Spikes General Manager Jason Dambach did not hear anything from the Pirates front office about continuing their relationship with State College with the minor league franchise free agency deadline approaching, Dambach welcomed the zeal of the Cardinals.
“When we didn't receive any communication from Pittsburgh, we were certainly delighted when the defending World Series champions enthusiastically reached out to us shortly after the deadline,” Dambach wrote in an email.
Greenberg and Vuch were able to come to an agreement quickly, and the announcement was made Monday afternoon.
The Spikes, who just finished a 35-41 season, ended its six-year relationship as the Short season A-affiliate of the Pirates.
State College and the Pirates were recently at odds when Dambach said in June he wanted to produce a winning style of baseball, not only help develop young players. Pirates President Frank Coonelly said there was no lasting bad blood between the two organizations, but did add he realized it was time to part ways.
“The desire to see what else was out there is something all of us go through,” Coonelly said. “The Spikes have every right to do that. It was not offensive in anyway. The message regarding winning was a little bit unusual, and the apology was accepted.”
One of the big draws for the Cardinals organization was Medler Field at Lubrano Park and the facilities that team members have access to in the State College area.
Vuch echoed the access of facilities that players will have. He said it is something that was key for the Cardinals.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak also was impressed with the fan support of the State College area.
“When you look at that ballpark and what they have been able to build there, it is certainly state-of-the-art,” Mozeliak said. “And when you look at that from the development standpoint, we want our players to be playing as much as possible in that type of atmosphere.
“When we were there back in ’06, we had a lot of support from the city and town. They came out, and the games were widely attended. We really feel it is a great partnership.”
The most obvious difficulty will be putting fans in the seats, as many Pittsburgh fans call State College home, and St. Louis is more than 740 miles away from State College.
“If you watch Cardinals games on TV, not only does the Cardinals team travel well, but they also have a lot of support throughout the country,” Mozeliak said. “Having said that, obviously the local fan base of State College, it’s really about making sure the environment is right and the product that they are watching is quality.”
Dambach said it’s possible that Pirates fans only came to Spikes games to see Pittsburgh prospects, but believes that a majority of State College’s fan base enjoys the atmosphere at Medlar Park.
Dambach is happy to welcome back the St. Louis franchise, and Vuch is happy to be back in State College.
“It’s something that is a very desirable destination for us, and we were excited of having the possibility to do it,” Vuch said.
“Being aligned with one of the most well-respected organizations in all of professional sports is very exciting for us and our fans,” Dambach said. “The manner in which the Cardinals operate, both on and off the field, is respected and emulated by the entire baseball industry. We are excited to bring the 'Cardinal Way' to our loyal Spikes fans.”