Every Sunday from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, adult baseball players have a chance to hit the field in State College and continue playing the game they love, or dust off the cleats and take another swing at a fastball.
The Centre Sluggers 28-years-and-over baseball league was founded in 2001. The league began with four teams, named after Major League Baseball teams, and about 60 players. As the 2017 season gets underway, the league will field eight teams and more than 120 players.
The wooden bat league plays its games at the State College Teener League fields located off West College avenue, and attracts players from as far as Bedford. The nine-inning games are umpired by a local crew hired by the league and the rules closely resemble major league rules, with a few exceptions to promote safety.
One of the league founders was the late Paul Mazza Jr., who was also the founder of the South Hills School of Business and Technology. After about a 40-year hiatus from the game, he returned to the field and played for the Yankees. In a leadership role with the league, he authored the local rules to reflect the tone of the sluggers.
“We will never intentionally hurt any other player because we understand that all of us need to go to work on the morning after the game and feel good about the game we played,” Mazza wrote in the league rules.
The league was originally a member of the Men’s Senior Baseball League, which is a national organization with more than 300 affiliates and about 3,000 teams. John Young, former league president and current player, said when the league began to grow, the decision was made to become an independent league, which he said is unique for an adult league.
Young is an environmental scientist from Lemont during the week, but when the 65-year-old suits up in his Orioles uniform, he’s an infielder who still has pop in his bat and speed to get down the line.
“Baseball is a great game and there is a lot of tradition to it,” Young said. “I think the guys like the history of the game and it brings you back to your youth a little bit.”
Young’s story is similar to many players in the league. He played Little League, advanced through youth baseball and played in college and county league before taking time off and returning years later.
During Young’s time as president, he played a key roll in getting a second division of the league started — the Centre Hardballers 40--and-over league.
The Hardballers play Tuesday and Wednesday evenings under the lights at the Teener League fields. The games are seven innings and are played within the sluggers’ rules. They are also played with a less competitive edge, according to Young.
The league president prior to Young was John Pringle. Under his leadership, the league began playing one Sunday per year at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
For one afternoon per season, players enjoy the practice facilities and field conditions of the minor league ballpark as their families and friends experience an afternoon watching their favorite player.
Jason Bickle, league president, said the Medlar experience is the highlight of the season for most players.
Bickle is a 40-year-old department manager at Wal-Mart off the field, but on Sundays during the season, he suits up as an infielder and pitcher for the Diamondbacks.
He ended his playing days when he was 18 years old, but after hearing about the league in 2013, he grabbed his glove and hit the field once again.
Attracting players to the league is difficult, Bickle said, but during his time as president he hopes to grow both leagues and increase their visibility in the community.
“I think if people come out to see our games, they’ll realize that this is a great league,” Bickle said. “And if a guy is thinking about playing, I always tell him that the league is competitive, but we truly play for love of the game.”