NILES - Not even the threat of thunderstorms could quell the excitement as Eastwood Field became the center of attention Tuesday night.
Crowds flocked to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers' home stadium for the 2012 New York-Penn League All-Star Game, and for the diehard baseball fans on hand, the potential for inclement weather was a non-issue.
"That's why you make sure to come with all of your rain gear," Cindy DeWalk explained. "It just makes it a little harder because you have to come prepared."
A Liberty resident, DeWalk also made sure to bring along her camera to capture the big moments.
"We snapped some of the Home Run Derby," she said. "I hope to also get some during the game."
Tuesday night marked the first time the game has been held at Eastwood Field. The game capped off two days of events that included a gala at the Packard Music Hall in Warren on Monday with the players and a luncheon earlier Tuesday at the Magnuson Grand Hotel with former Cleveland Indians manager Mike Hargrove.
American League All-Star manager and Scrappers manager Ted Kubiak autographs a baseball for Jordan Schwab, 9, of Niles, before the start of the New York-Penn League All-Star game Tuesday evening at Eastwood Field in Niles. Photo by R. Michael Semple
"I've been waiting for the game to come here for a long time," DeWalk said. "I'm looking forward to seeing all of the best players from the different teams that we might not usually get a chance to watch."
Scrappers regulars Carl Racketa and his son Nick of Girard saw the game as a perfect opportunity to see up-and-coming talent from around the league.
"I've been coming to this park pretty much since the Scrappers inception," Carl Racketa, 51, said. "Looking back and seeing guys that were here, whether it be (Jason) Kipnis, C.C. (Sabathia), Victor Martinez, among others is pretty neat. There isn't a bad seat in the house and it is a professional brand of baseball. It isn't like going out and seeing sandlot baseball. These guys are professionals and it is very close to home."
Racketa explained that his family has several connections to the ball park.
"We're big fans of baseball and we've always been supportive of the Scrappers. My wife works here during the summer, and my older son, who goes to Youngstown State University, works here as well.
"We are all big fans of the sport and it has become sort of a family thing between all of us and our uncles, cousins and friends. This is a good place to be with people that you care about and, if you like baseball, this is a good place to be."
A student at Girard High School, Nick Racketa brought along his baseball for potential autographs.
"I'm not looking to get anyone in particular," he said. "I'm just trying to get as many as I can."
The Scrappers were represented by six players in the game - Joe Wendle, Joe Sever, Charlie Valerio, Jacob Lee and Luis DeJesus.
Nick Racketa was hopeful the large crowd which had assembled would give the local players extra incentive to perform well.
"I really want to see Joe Wendle hit a home run," he said. "He's one of the home guys and probably my favorite player."
Danny Boerio, 14, of Boardman has not been to the stadium often, but he did not want to miss his one shot to see the best from NY-PL battle it out.
"I just came out to watch a good baseball game. I haven't been out here all that much recently, but I like trying to see the guys before they make it to the big leagues," he said.
Longtime Scrappers fan Dick Baker of Girard knows that events like this can be beneficial for the community.
"I think it is a good draw for the area. The weather may have kept some people away," the 75-year-old season ticket holder said. "Still, this is good for the area and it gives you a chance to see a little bit of talent from all of the teams. It's a good thing."