Excitement is building fast toward this week’s opening night of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ 20th anniversary season.
That excitement, however, is more than just reaching a major milestone year for the Short Season Single A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians. It’s also an opportunity for unbridled celebration throughout the Valley over the team’s respected stature today and its two-decade legacy as the most successful and longest-running professional sports franchise in our region.
Just how much is there to celebrate? Let us count the ways:
First, everybody loves an undisputed champion, and the Scrappers begin their 2018 season at home Friday night at 7:05 against the West Virginia Black Bears as reigning divisional champs. By defeating the Batavia Muckdogs late last season, the Valley’s Dawgs of summer captured the Pinckney Division title in the New York-Penn League.
Residual fan fervor tied to that honor bodes well for a tremendous start to this banner year for the team.
Second, even before winning its first divisional title since 2009 last year, community support for the squad had been bursting at the seams.
Official attendance records from the NYPL drive that point home. Attendance at the three dozen games played at Eastwood Field in Niles jettisoned from 92,000 in 2016 to 108,000 in 2017, a nearly 15 percent leap. With so much going for the squad this summer, we’re counting on that momentum to keep on climbing over the next three months.
Third, the Scrappers earned honorable distinction last fall as the winner of the coveted 2017 Vincent McNamara Outstanding Club Award among the 18 teams in its league.
That award rightly recognizes the squad’s superlative record of going the distance for community service. Day after day, the team has demonstrated its commitment to its primary five-county home base in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys.
More than 200 events took place at Eastwood Field last year, including high school and Youngstown State University games, charity walks, wrestling events, haunted Halloween attractions and skill camps for youth, to name but a few.
What’s more, the team donated more than $400,000 last season to more than 350 local charitable causes, including the Hope Foundation, the American Cancer Society and Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.
UPGRADES AT EASTWOOD FIELD
Fourth, teams and fans alike will be treated to a variety of grade-A enhancements at the Cafaro Co.-owned Eastwood Field this season. Those include a gigantic new video board, revamped audio and expanded concessions. The new video board stands four times larger with eight times more pixels than its predecessor, making the video experience throughout the stadium bigger, bolder and clearer for all fans.
Fifth, the Scrappers enter a promising new era in leadership this week as Jim Pankovits assumes duties as manager of the team for the 2018 season. Pankovits has a sterling professional record befitting his new championship team.
He served most recently as a coach for High-A-Modesto and previously spent 16 seasons as a member of Houston’s Player Development Department. His Major League Baseball playing credentials date back to 1976 when he was drafted by the Astros. Over six seasons and 318 games with Houston and the Boston Red Sox, Pankovits had a batting average of .250.
The Scrappers also provide families and individuals with excitement at affordable prices, close to home and in one of the most attractive ballparks in the minor leagues. This 20th season is loaded with special events at virtually every game. Among them are Star Wars night June 22, 20th season commemorative night July 15, Bark at the Park for dog lovers July 25 and Scout Night Sleepover on Aug. 17.
The Vindicator, a proud sponsor of the team, also is in the starting lineup this season with its MVK (Most Valuable Kid) Contest in which 38 children can win four free tickets to games and special honors at the ballpark. (See Page A7 of Sunday’s Vindicator for contest details and entry form.)
In addition, Tuesday at 6 p.m., the Scrappers make their unofficial 2018 debut with a Meet the Team Party at the stadium. There, fans can get autographs of team members, meet the leadership of the Scrappers, take in the new ballpark improvements and enjoy complimentary samples of stadium food.
As these and other enjoyable and economical promotions prove, the leaders and staff of the Scrappers pay close attention to every detail of every game to maximize fun, success and profit for the squad and crowd-pleasing summer pleasures for its growing base of fans. With so much going for it, this summer promises to be a season to remember at Eastwood Field.