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Sights, sounds of Scrappers bring normalcy

A nearby wooded area encompasses the baseball stadium parallel to the Eastwood Mall. The Eastwood Field facility has been a fixture in the Mahoning Valley since the summer of 1999.

Shane Bieber, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, CC Sabathia and Tyler Naquin are a few of the future major leaguers to step foot on the Mahoning Valley Scrappers’ natural grass field, make contact from a wooden bat from a hard-thrown, tightly-wound baseball and entertain area fans for the better part of two decades.

In-game giveaways, dollar-beer night and all sorts of giveaways attract fans to this Trumbull County location.

At its core, there’s baseball. For me, baseball has been and will always be my first love. There’s nothing like the thrown ball smacking the leather, or sitting in the stands wondering if an errant foul ball drops my way. It’s the sounds of summer, just like hearing Warren G. Harding graduate Robb Schmidt’s voice over the Eastwood Field sound system as the Scrappers’ Public Address announcer.

I spent my teenager years in Canton in the late 80s and early 90s at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium off of I-77, on the southern portion of the city, watching the former Canton-Akron Indians (now Akron RubberDucks).

Jim Thome, Deion Sanders, Albert Belle, Charlie Nagy and many others future professional players were in a close view in Canton. It was Class AA baseball, a couple steps up from the short-season Class A baseball of the New York-Penn League of the Scrappers, who will now be part of a MLB Draft League that will feature some of the game’s top prospects.

The metallic, rattling bleachers during a rally and crisp, summer air wafting around put me at ease. I had the same feeling at Eastwood Field (although the seating was much more stable), whether I was working a game or being a fan.

It wasn’t the same in 2020. Nothing was this year. The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on live professional baseball with fans, until Major League Baseball remedied that with a few lucky soles to attend a couple of playoff games.

The Scrappers didn’t have that luxury this past summer. Eastwood Field remained vacant, quiet as the day before the stadium officially opened.

General Manager Jordan Taylor interacted with his staff during the past summer, but it was far from business as usual.

Talk of the Scrappers being dissolved as an organization started to grow from talks between MLB and minor league baseball about a year ago. Mahoning Valley was tagged, according to a published report, to be one of 42 teams to be contracted. That’s when the #SaveTheScrappers campaign began through the effort of community leaders and politicians.

“It was a sad summer,” Taylor said. “The one plus, for the first time in my 20 years working in the industry, I had a summer with my family.

“There’s a certain energy you have from getting to go to the ballpark, produce the games, work with the team, players. Losing that was a big loss over the summer. We’re very much anticipating getting back doing what we do come June.”

Those sad days are behind the Mahoning Valley with the Monday’s announcement of a Major League Baseball’s Draft League. This gives MLB Draft prospects a chance to showcase their talents with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Williamsport Crosscutters, State College Spikes, West Virginia Black Bears and the Trenton Thunder, a former Class AA team of the New York Yankees. Taylor said there will be a sixth team to be announced at a later time.

“I anticipate that in the next few weeks, which is what Major League Baseball told us,” Taylor said.

The affiliation is with Major League Baseball, not specifically with the Cleveland Indians, hasn’t changed future major league talent heading to the Mahoning Valley.

“We’ve had great talent for 20-plus years and lots of major leaguers come through,” Taylor said. “We’ve been told from Major League Baseball, the way this league is set up, now you’re looking at most likely all of these players on our team are going to be drafted. You’re getting a higher concentration of talent, which should lead to more major leaguers coming out of this particular model.”

The sounds of summer — the crack of the bat, smacking thrown baseballs to leather gloves and the umpire’s call of play ball — will be a welcome sight in 2021. It’s one I and many baseball fans look forward to seeing this upcoming summer.

It’ll be different, but it’s baseball. That’s all that matters in the summer of 2021.

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