Players boo Mayor over Brawl call

Barring a miracle, the Backyard Brawl on May 11 will be held at Williamsport’s Logue Field and not Bowman Field.

Players from participating teams, Williamsport, South Williamsport, Loyalsock and Montoursville, are upset and disappointed. Williamsport mayor Gabriel Campana says he has done everything to ensure the Brawl be held at Bowman Field.

The field was damaged after the outdoor hockey experiment with the Williamsport Outlaws team failed last winter and caused significant damage to Bowman Field. Because of a harsh winter and cold spring, landscaper R.D. Slingerland could not begin fixing the field on April 1 as planned.

“They (the Outlaws) said the rink would be removed by April 1 and it was, but the issue was the frost. That’s why it couldn’t be worked on then,” Campana said Thursday. “I have tried doing everything I can to have the games played at Bowman Field because it is a great atmosphere. I even suggested playing it on another date but because of schedule conflicts and playoffs they could not do that. I have been trying to accommodate them as much as possible.”

Campana met with Slingerland, city streets and parks general manager William C. Wright, Williamsport athletic director Sean McCann and participating coaches Wednesday. The field was not in as bad a shape as that group thought it would be. Campana said the outfield looked good and most of the infield looked decent although some work was needed down the first-base line.

Campana left the decision on whether to play at Bowman to the coaches. They opted for Logue Field for various reasons. Although the field was deemed playable, it still needs repairs that are being paid by $25,000 a non-profit group provided. The issue was both the upcoming district playoffs scheduled to be played at Bowman Field and the Crosscutters season that opens later in June.

While the tournament technically could be played at Bowman next Saturday, it would jeopardize District 4, which has no backup field and potentially the Crosscutters. Because of that and because sod still needs to be laid, the tournament was moved.

“I told the coaches it was their call. I left it up to them and said if they want to play there, they can play there,” Campana said. “Everybody has been working as hard as they can to get it ready. I gave them the opportunity to play on it as it is but I think everyone understands the situation. Nobody can say I’m not pro-baseball. We’ve put $1 million into the field since I’ve been in office.”

While Campana gave the green light for the tournament to be played at Bowman, participating players and some coaches are disappointed in him, as is the Penn College baseball team which lost its entire home schedule at Bowman this spring. They understand that Campana has tried rectifying things but they also are upset that he brought the Outlaws to Williamsport in the first place. Had the outdoor hockey experiment not happened, there would be no Bowman Field issues and the tournament would held there without a glitch.

Seniors will not get another chance to play in a Backyard Brawl at Bowman Field. Williamsport players will not get another chance this season since they compete in the District 2 Class AAAA Tournament. This was their last chance to play under the Saturday Night Lights and they believe they were the ones who deserved that chance to shine, not a group of semi-pro players who know little or nothing about the area.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” Montoursville senior third baseman Ryan Mondell said. “It’s unfortunate, definitely, because your senior year you want to play there.”

“My high school memory is one I will never get to live. Dozens of other local baseball players from the surrounding school districts will unfortunately have to share this with me,” Williamsport pitcher Aaron Weber said. “The memory of being able to play in the Backyard Brawl under the lights at Historic Bowman Field has been shattered by (Campana’s) selfish ambition to build an ice hockey rink right on the exact location we planned to play on months later.”

Campana helped bring the Outlaws, then a member of the Federal Hockey League last July. They began in October and by January they were gone, canceling their last game and ending their season weeks early. While a non-profit group has provided the money to fix Bowman Field at no extra cost to the tax payers, city solicitor Norman Lubin was planning to file a lawsuit against the Outlaws and a non-profit group to recover losses associated with non-payment of $55,000 in utility bills and rental fees.

Those upset about the Brawl being moved do not blame Campana for the weather delaying repairs. What they do blame him for is bringing the Outlaws and outdoor hockey to Williamsport at the risk of damaging the country’s second-oldest baseball field.

“I understand that the mayor wanted to shake it up a bit and try to bring hockey to Williamsport. But, really? It was destined to fail from the beginning,” South third baseman Joey Balawajder said. “The Backyard Brawl has and would have generated more hype and money than this hockey organization that was suddenly sprung on Williamsport. It is such a shame that these prestigious baseball programs will go a year without the Backyard Brawl (at Bowman).”

“Bowman Field is one of oldest baseball fields in the country and we’re destroying the facility to play hockey,” Loyalsock coach Jeremy Eck said. “I have nothing against hockey, but it’s a baseball field. There is so much historical value and tradition behind the field and it was destroyed for hockey. That’s upsetting.”

Players also have not forgotten a promise Campana made a few months ago while ESPN 1050. Station general manager Todd Bartley provided the transcript to the Sun-Gazette Thursday. After Bartley asked Campana, in the aftermath of the Outlaws ending their season, if Bowman would be ready to host the Brawl, Campana said the following:

“I promise the field will be taken care of. We have the $20,000. Typically the city of Williamsport, we put in $7,500 to prep the field as well. Regardless of this situation. You have my word of honor and actually I’ll see you at one of the first games.”

Now, unless something drastic changes, those games will be at Logue Field. That is not sitting well with players and fans who heard that interview and have remembered it since.

“Here we are after months of anxiously waiting to see if we can finally step onto the same field that professional baseball players play on to show off our talents to our friends, families, and neighbors, and we are given the news that the opportunity will not come as (Campana) had promised us earlier,” Weber said.

There are those in the community who think the most important thing is that the Brawl will be played, period. Montoursville coach Travis Wurster told his players Wednesday he would play it in a parking lot if necessary.

The counterpoint is that Bowman holds a special allure. Players from the participating teams, a combined 37-6 this season, work all offseason waiting for that opportunity to play where so many professionals, several who became Major Leaguers, have played. The venue, the lights and the crowd create an electric atmosphere.

The games will go on at Logue but many players know the experience will be different. It was that way two years ago as well when, on a cloudy day, the tournament was moved to Montoursville’s Giles Field after the field was deemed unplayable.

“It’s disappointing because the Backyard Brawl is Bowman Field. That is what the game is all about,” Eck said. “It’s a huge crowd and a great facility and to have the opportunity to play under the lights at Bowman Field for area bragging rights is huge. You still want to compete at other facilities but this takes the feel of the tournament away.”

Campana said he empathizes with those players and coaches. He said he has been losing sleep over the thought of the players not getting to compete in a Brawl at Bowman. If not for the unseasonably cold spring, he said there would be no issues and everything would be on schedule.

“My intentions were sincere,” Campana said. “I feel bad about it and wish the weather had been better. I’m a big sports fan and have been hoping and praying that this can be accomplished and told them if they want to play, they can play there.”

Unless something drastic and rapidly changes, however, that will not be happening.

“I will surely feel a sense of emptiness and betrayal playing in the Backyard Brawl my senior year,” Weber said, on a field that holds no significance or aura to that of Historic Bowman Field.”