It was a perfect day for baseball in Centre County Wednesday, with temperatures in the 60s, sunny skies and a cool breeze.
As it turned out, it was a perfect day for a baseball stadium ground-breaking, too, as roughly 500 people showed up to watch shovels hit dirt on Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on the Penn State campus near Beaver Stadium. Hot dogs, popcorn, Cracker Jack and cold drinks completed the scene.
Actual construction on the $24 million, 6,000-seat facility will begin Thursday and take roughly a year to complete.
The project came about following a decade of planning involving one major donor (former PSU player Anthony Lubrano), the university and its athletic department, state, county and local governments, and the Altoona Curve AA minor-league baseball club, whose ownership group will bring a A minor-league team to the new ballpark.
Partisan agendas were checked at the door as all involved gushed over the coordinated effort that made this dream a reality.
Gov. Ed Rendell (D) was among the luminaries who spoke at the ceremony (he also presented a $12 million check for the project), and said when he was first approached about the idea his response was, uh-oh, another ballpark situation?
But after hearing the idea behind the facility — allowing the Penn State baseball team to use it in the spring, before a summer-league class A pro team plays there in the summer — made him change his mind. The stadium will be owned by the university, with the as-yet-to-be-determined professional team's management group handling the day-to-day operation of the facility.
That's a concept I thought was just terrific, Rendell said, adding that he is promoting similar arrangements in Lancaster, York and the Lehigh Valley.
The other political types on hand did their best to send the message that the stadium will serve more than just Penn State and State College.
Today is a red-letter day for our region, state Sen. Bob Jubelirer (R) explained. And I want to emphasize the word 'region.' But he later allowed, The economic engine is the greatest university in the United States, Penn State.
Added fellow state Sen. Jake Corman (R): It's not just a baseball stadium for Penn State; It's Penn State working together with its entire community.
The minor league team will play in the short-season New York-Penn League beginning in 2006. The owners are conducting a contest (beginning Friday) to come up with a name for the team).
The Nittany Lions will get their first chance to compete in the facility in the 2007 campaign.
First-year Penn State coach Robbie Wine and most of his team were on hand for the event. The players were in uniform and clearly happy with the prospect of eventually moving out of Beaver Field, one of the worst major-college baseball facilities in the nation.
The Penn State baseball family is very excited about this ground-breaking for its new home, athletic director Tim Curley said.
PSU president Graham Spanier added: This new ballpark cements a deep commitment to Penn State's oldest varsity sport.
There will be some serious excavation work before the actual cement is poured, of course. But Wednesday's activities at the corner of Porter and Curtin Roads, a locale that offers a splendid view of Mount Nittany, were evidence that it was more than simply a perfect day for baseball.
It was — and is — a perfect place, too.
To see what the stadium will look like, click here: Images.