The eventual return of baseball following the coronavirus outbreak will also mark the start of a new era for the Shippensburg Stars.
The local semi-pro outfit has merged with the Newville Cardinals to form one of the deeper and most talented Stars squads in recent memory. They also have a new home, joining the South Penn Baseball League after the West Shore Twilight League was disbanded in March.
The merger was the idea of Newville Cardinals Head Coach Josh Petty and Shippensburg Area Athletic Association (SAAA) President Todd Martin.
The Stars will continue to play their home games at Shippensburg Memorial Park, but with Petty taking over as skipper and Martin remaining on as the club’s GM.
“Toward the end of last year, we had trouble fielding a team with guys going back to school [and other things]. Progressively throughout the summer, guys lost interest and the same thing seemed to happen at Shippensburg,” Petty stated. “We planned a couple months ago to make one team, one very competitive team.”
The merger, along with the folding of the Cumberland Valley Eagles, put the West Shore Twilight League at just five teams heading into the 2020 season, and after a March 21 league meeting, the West Shore Twilight League was no more.
The West Shore Twilight League has a long history, but the number of players and teams began to dwindle in recent years. At the league meeting, the majority of the remaining West Shore Twilight League teams -- the New Cumberland Tigers, Mechanicsburg Cardinals and Enola Express -- all voted to disband.
“West Shore Twilight knew that we were thinking about [merging]. When we got to the last meeting we found out that New Cumberland, Mechanicsburg and Enola had already planned on going to play somewhere else,” Petty stated.
Petty, a former West Shore Twilight League player, was sad to see the end of a league with a more than 100-year history.
“I voted against it, I wanted to keep the West Shore Twilight League going with five teams. Let’s just stumble through it and keep it into existence and maybe teams would come back. The other teams just weren’t interested,” he said.
Martin is entering his 20th year with the Stars and his 10th as team president. He has also spent 12 years as a player.
“Everyone was happy ‘til we found out we didn’t have a league to play in,” he commented. “It seems like the writing was on the wall for the last couple of years. Every year you’ve got teams threatening to leave and go somewhere else if they didn’t get their way. It was just a matter of time.
“Everyone that was part of the league was getting older. A lot of teams were traveling down with nine guys because they didn’t want to travel. Us, Newville and Cumberland Valley would struggle to get nine guys to go anywhere. That’s part of the reason why we merged with Newville.”
The Stars were voted into the South Penn League just two days later, joining another former West Shore Twilight League outfit, the Hagerstown Braves, in making the move.
The South Penn League will feature 10 teams from Pennsylvania and Maryland. The majority of the teams are located in Adams County, including Biglerville, Gettysburg, Hanover and Littlestown.
Petty and Martin see the recent changes as a fresh start, and are excited for this summer.
“That’s exciting because I had commitments from a lot of good guys to put a really good, competitive Twilight team on the field this year. We are excited to get after it,” Petty noted.
“It is filled with young coaches and enthusiasm,” Martin added. “They are looking to expand the league, especially with us over here now, hoping they can pick up a few teams here and possibly do a two-division league. Have one division over on each side of the mountain.”
According to Martin, the Stars last played South Penn League teams as a part of a series of exhibition games back in 2002.
“They were competitive back then,” he recalled. “They are a bunch of small towns over there kind of like what the West Shore League was years ago. They are guys that want to play ball and enjoy playing ball. They are going to stack up just as well as the West Shore League did.”
Veteran players Todd Weldon and Josh Edgin plan to return for the upcoming season and will play alongside Shippensburg University players, kids from Shippensburg and Big Spring High School and others from the community that are passionate and want to continue to play.
“What it comes down to is we just wanna play ball. I am just excited to get playing,” Martin said.
High school baseball
Josh Petty, who also serves as the head coach for the Big Spring High School varsity team, can’t help but feel a tremendous amount of guilt for his players as spring sports around the state and country remain on hold due to the coronavirus.
It particularly hit home for him recently when one of his players contacted him looking to take some swings in the batting cage on his property, but he had to say no in order to not violate PIAA rules.
“That's really hard to swallow as a head coach,” he said. “We’ve put in a lot of time with these guys from the beginning of school until now. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point where we are able to get our season started, and all of sudden, the PIAA say that I am not even allowed to be around my guys.”
The Big Spring coach said he is trying to keep in touch with his players via text during their current holding pattern, but some of them are so upset about this they are not even responding.
“I feel for the seniors. It’s not just baseball season they’re missing out on, they’re missing out on possibly prom, Powder Puff, post-grad parties and graduation -- everything that leads up to the end of your senior year. That’s really upsetting to these guys because they’ve looked forward to it for their whole lives,” he stated. “We were going to put a really good team on the field. I am not giving up hope.”