STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Williamsport Crosscutters and State College Spikes have a lot in common.
Both franchises compete in the New York-Penn League while serving as the short-season affiliate for one of Pennsylvania's Major League ballclubs (the Crosscutters field Phillies prospects and the Spikes showcase future Pirates). The teams are located an hour from one another, resulting in a veritable backyard rivalry that has been dubbed "The Sawbuck Series."
Despite these similarities, the clubs exist at opposite ends of the Minor League spectrum. The Crosscutters play at 84-year-old Bowman Field, a charming but undeniably ancient ballpark that fits snugly into a residential section of small-market Williamsport. The Spikes, meanwhile, compete at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, a sparkling $31 million facility in the shadow of iconic Beaver Stadium on the bustling Penn State campus.
Taken together, the Crosscutters and Spikes represent the yin and yang of the Minor League experience, giving central Pennsylvania fans easy access to both old-fashioned charm and 21st century bells and whistles. The clubs also represent the unparalleled market diversity that can be found throughout the New York-Penn League, as classic small-town franchises such as the Batavia Muckdogs and Jamestown Jammers co-exist with much larger operations like the Lowell Spinners, Aberdeen IronBirds and Brooklyn Cyclones.
More than semantics
The Crosscutters arrived in Williamsport in 1994 after relocating from Geneva, N.Y. One of the team's first priorities was to make sure that Bowman Field was looked upon in the proper light.
"No one was really using the word 'historic' to describe Bowman Field until we got here, but we immediately began marketing it that way," said Gabe Sinicropi, the Crosscutters vice president of marketing. "We slapped that word on everything we could; it sure beat 'old and decrepit.'"
Bowman Field has been renovated many times through the years, with the most recent series of significant upgrades and repairs occurring in 2002. A new scoreboard was installed in 2008 and the ballpark proudly advertises itself as a "Wi-Fi Hot Spot." Yet the overall feel is not dissimilar from what must have prevailed in the '20s. An intimate covered grandstand comprises the majority of the seating area, with concessions and souvenirs located out front. A bleacher section is situated along the first base side, largely populated by young fans tracking the many balls that fly over their heads and into the adjacent parking lot.
"There's not a lot of real estate to work with, and there's not much we can do to change that," Sinicropi said. "Our goal is just to maximize what we have while celebrating it and trumpeting what a unique and historic place it is."
The new team on campus
Lack of real estate is certainly not a problem in State College. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park might be small in relation to the 107,000-seat monster across the street, but by short-season standards it is a behemoth. The 5,200-seat facility features a wraparound concourse, picnic areas, outfield bleacher seating, luxury suites, a kid's arcade and games area and a wealth of unique concession items (including a deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich).
The Spikes share the stadium with Penn State's baseball program, and it is the university that owns the facility.
"It's a very unique operating agreement," said Spikes general manager Jason Dambach. "In essence, we're a full-season club because we run the [college] program as well, with the exception of marketing."
The symbiotic relationship is exemplified by the layout of the playing field. The dimensions mirror those of Pittsburgh's PNC Park, except for the right-field wall. The structure is exactly 18.55 feet, in honor of the year that Penn State was established.
Celebrating the difference
The storied big league rivalry between the Pirates and Phillies has cooled in recent years, thanks to divisional realignment and a pronounced talent discrepancy. But the Minor Leagues are a different story, as the clubs' affiliates compete in the same circuit at each and every Minor League rung.
This rivalry is especially pronounced in the New York-Penn League, thanks to the "Sawbuck Series" (tied at 3-3 in 2010). Not only does it consolidate the Philly-Pittsburgh rivalry in central PA, it provides a chance to see "how the other half lives."
"It's something for the team, fans and front offices to have fun with, and we hope that it continues to grow," Sinicropi said. "It's cool in that provides the people of this area with such different [Minor League] perspectives."
"It's new school vs. old school, turn-back-the-clock baseball vs. the 21st century," Dambach added. "The entire [New York-Penn League] is like that, really. But we're a tight-knit bunch and all in this together."