UNIVERSITY PARK — One-hundred- and-three diamonds and 57 rubies sparkled.
St. Louis Cardinals farm director John Vuch didnt know the carat value of his 2011 World Series ring.
But anybody who attended Wednesdays official announcement regarding the alliance between the State College Spikes and Cardinals had to admire Vuchs bling.
The Spikes new parent club offers luster to a franchise that lost part of its buzz after six years of awful baseball thanks to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
When Vuch and Spikes managing partner Chuck Greenberg and general manager Jason Dambach engaged in their first conversation at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, nobody guaranteed anything.
Vuch didnt promise loaded teams. The Spikes didnt propose a four-year commitment. The deal between the Spikes and Cardinals lasts through 2014, a two-year trial offering the hope of better baseball at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Winning does matter to us, Vuch said. When I made the first call, I said I cant make any promises. Development is always our primary focus. We want to develop championship players for championship clubs. But development and winning dont have to be mutually exclusive. You can do both.
They call their approach the Cardinal Way, and it has yielded 11 world titles, a gaudy number for a small-market organization. St. Louis ranks 21st among the nations top 100 television markets. Pittsburgh ranks 23rd.
The on-field gap between the franchises is much larger.
The Cardinals have won two world titles since 2006. The Pirates havent posted a winning season since 1992.
Baseball America named St. Louis its 2011 organization of the year, an award that honors the Cardinals all-round operation. Vuch said the Cardinals use a top down developmental philosophy, meaning their major league and minor league instruction is unified.
Vuch, who has spent more than three decades in the organization, personified the differences between the Cardinals and Pirates. Wearing a jacket and tie, he arrived in State College on Wednesday equipped with telling anecdotes and an affable demeanor.
Vuch said his organization implemented a farm system in 1919 and has fielded an industry-high 893 minor-league teams. No other organization has fielded more than 749 farm clubs.
Greensburg, Lancaster, Erie and Allentown are among the Pennsylvania cities that have been affiliated with the Cardinals. The organizations most respected player, Stan Musial, hailed from Donora, a western Pennsylvania mill town.
Chilly springs dont prevent the Cardinals from scouring Pennsylvania for talent. The organization used its 23rd-round draft pick in 2009 on a catcher from Division II Slippery Rock University.
The catcher started his professional career at rookie Johnson City. He received ample at-bats in 2009 because the Cardinals field three short-season teams, one more than most organizations.
Their player development department moved him to first base. On May 20, 2012, Matt Adams made his major-league debut.
Its so competitive, said Adams, a Philipsburg-Osceola High School graduate who attended Wednesdays announcement. When I was even in Johnson City, those guys have that dream in mind that they want to make the big leagues. Being able to make the big leagues and seeing how competitive it is up there. ...It keeps that fire. It keeps you going. The farm system is great.
Besides former manager Gary Robinsons zany base-stealing episode in 2010, the Spikes lacked on-field fire the past six years. The losing never seemed to matter.
Pitch counts were so rigid that the expensive pitches the Pirates drafted never experienced intense
moments in State College. The Spikes didnt receive one impact bat in the past six years.
The Spikes dont control the on-field product. But they must accept some responsibility for the mess. Greenberg purchased and relocated the New Jersey Cardinals with hopes of making the franchise a longtime Pirate affiliate. The franchise had one year remaining on a contract with the Cardinals when it opened for business in 2006.
Then-Cardinals farm director Bruce Manno said the organization was taking a long term approach in State College. The Spikes werent viewing the Cardinals in a similar way, designing Medlar Fields outfield dimensions to mirror those at PNC Park.
Before the franchises first pitch, Sen. Robert Jubelirer, R-Blair County, made a major gaffe, proclaiming his joy to follow players from State College to Pittsburgh. Never mind that then-Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty and assistant general manager John Mozeliak stood on the field when Jubelirer made his statement.
The Cardinals gave the Spikes enough talent to finish 39-36, a credibility-building start. Nine players from that team reached the major leagues, an astounding number from a short-season team.
No matter how hard they tried, the Cardinals had no chance of remaining in State College. They begrudgingly packed their equipment and
headed to Batavia (N.Y.), where they fielded solid NYPL teams from 2007-12.
Six years later, the Cardinals received a warm greeting, which included a stirring video tribute on Medlar Fields giant scoreboard. Clips included Allen Craigs homer in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series and Jason Mottes final pitch in Game 7.
Craig and Motte played for the 06 Spikes. Adams, who also wore a tie Wednesday, wished he received the same chance to pass through State College on his way to St. Louis.
Im excited, said Adams, whos recovering from an elbow injury. Its a great organization for a great town and a great county.
One-hundred-and-three diamonds and 57 rubies. Dress shirts and ties. A power-hitting first baseman procured through savvy scouting.
Finally, the Spikes realized a classy match existed from the start.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy