It was a beautiful night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Monday for the State College Spikes’ season opener.
For many fans it was a night to see a game, catch up with old friends and cheer for the team — even in a 9-2 loss.
For a handful, the experience was much more personal and special. They got to see their sons take the field.
Even better, their sons are playing professional baseball close to home.
Mick Fennell grew up three hours away in Butler and played college ball at California of Pa. Matt Davis went to Cumberland Valley High School — a mere 90-minute drive away.
“He would be happier if he was 12 hours away playing for the big boys,” said Matt’s father Bill Davis, referring to the parent club St. Louis Cardinals. “It’s nice to see him play close to home.”
For both Keystone State products and their families, the emotions are mixed about being with the Spikes this summer. Yes, it’s great that games are not far away — but this is the second season in the minors for both, and they would rather be climbing the ladder.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing,” said Mick Fennell’s mother, Ria Fennell-Lachesky, who made the drive for quite a few games last summer and is even closer for road games at Mahoning Valley. She worked until noon with her job as a massage therapist, then excitedly hopped into her car.
“There’s nowhere else I’d rather be right now,” she said. “I couldn’t get here fast enough today. It’s a three-hour drive, and I couldn’t wait for today.”
Fennell’s father, Jay, who coaches and teaches baseball for a living in the Pittsburgh area, felt for his son having to return to the same level.
“He worked so hard in the offseason, changing the mechanics of his swing, and he was very successful at doing that,” Jay Fennell said. “He had a really good extended spring training, and he thought he was going to be in Peoria.”
Peoria, Ill., is where the next level of Class A ball is in the Cardinals’ farm system. Matt Davis got to spend a little time there, then was sent back to the training facility in Palm Beach, Fla.
Bill Davis and his wife, Ginger, got to see their only child play there. Watching Matt play is a little less of a challenge wherever he may be, since both are retired from their Department of Defense jobs in Mechanicsburg. They will be in Williamsport for Tuesday’s game, then back in State College the rest of the week.
“We’re on the road with him and hope everything turns out the way he hopes,” Bill Davis said.
The starts to the careers for Fennell and Davis were a little different. Fennell got to see his name called during last year’s draft, while Davis was an undrafted free agent picked up last July. Either way, a call from the Cardinals telling them they would be playing in State College was a thrill.
Since the careers of both began during the summer, the families had to wait for another special experience — spring training at the Cardinals’ facility. They all were in Palm Beach, Fla., in March to savor the sights.
“It really was special to see him play in a Cardinals uniform,” said Fennell-Lachesky, who saw her son play in a game with a couple big leaguers in Kolten Wong and Philipsburg’s Matt Adams when he was still with the team.
The dreams are, of course, to be wearing those uniforms full time, but — honestly — Bill Davis is already thrilled with what has seen.
“It never crossed my mind,” Bill Davis said. “Things just kind of fell with him in the right place at the right time. He got a chance.”
None of them had a lot to cheer for personally Monday. Davis, an infielder, didn’t play, while center fielder Fennell was 0 for 4 batting leadoff.
But they all had a chance to see their sons in a baseball uniform again, a sight they have seen hundreds of times from Little League on up, and wherever they are watching, it will always be special.
“I’m going to get up here as often as he’s up here,” Jay Fennell said. “And if he goes to Peoria, I’ll make the trek there.”