If definitive proof is needed that the new era of professional baseball in Northeast Pennsylvania is deeper than the facade of the newly and beautifully reconstructed PNC Field, or the new name of the home team, it was in the promotion for last night's opening game.
Major weather forecasting services said that Thursday's high temperature would be in the low 50s. But Rob Crain, the new general manager for the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, predicted the temperature would be at least 60 for the scheduled first pitch at 7:05 p.m. If it's colder than that, all fans in attendance would receive a ticket to a future RailRiders game (Sunday-Thursday). In other words, Mr. Crain wants to reward you for showing up for the opener.
That, more so even than the $43.3 million stadium reconstruction, demonstrates how much has changed since the New York Yankees Triple A team, then the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, last played at PNC Field.
While the team was on the road for the entire 2012 season as the stadium was rebuilt, team owner SWB Yankees LLC obviously used the time to reconstruct its approach to operating the local franchise. It bought the franchise last year from Lackawanna County in a deal that also produced the stadium reconstruction, after managing the franchise and stadium for the four previous years to very poor reviews. Its fan outreach was as spotty as its success on the field was consistent. Attendance plummeted even as the team repeatedly made the playoffs.
Repairing the relationship with fans is even more important than repairing the stadium, relative to the long-term viability of professional baseball in Northeast Pennsylvania. SWB Yankess, a consortium of the New York Yankees and Mandalay Baseball Properties, has recognized that. It agreed with Lackawanna County Commissioners Corey O'Brien and Jim Wansacz to alter an initial purchase deal that had offered little in the public interest, taking on a major financial stake in the enterprise. It changed its local management team and attempted to become more integrated into the community.
Opening night is always one of anticipation for the season ahead. But there was even more to the opener - a new stadium, new attitude, new prospects for baseball's contributions to the regional economy and a whole new generation of fans.