With Punxsutawney Phil’s hopeful early spring call nine days away and MLB’s pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training soon to follow, baseball was on the minds of the crowd gathered for the Williamsport Crosscutters 15th Hot Stove Banquet at the Genetti Hotel this week.
For Crosscutters Vice President and Director of Marketing & Public Relations Gabe Sinicropi and mastermind of the popular winter gathering, it was a blessing to have the event return after a three-year COVID-caused absence.
“It’s my favorite night of the year, bar none; more than opening night, more than anything because this was always a dream of mine to be able do something like this. To do it at the level we do is extremely satisfying.
“I grew up in my hometown of Seneca Falls, New York, a town of about 8,000. One of my fondest childhood memories was the two sports banquets held each year. One was held for baseball in the winter and another for football. These banquets brought in some really top-notch guests from the sports world, like Terry Bradshaw, Jack Ham, Willie Stargell, Greg Luzinski, and the like. I grew up with these sports banquets in my town and really loved them.
“I’ve always remembered those days, and as I got into the profession of baseball, it was something I’ve always wanted to do. A big difference from those days as a kid and today is the cost of bringing those big names to the community. In conjunction with the banquet, we wanted to be able to raise money for a charity, but the cost of bringing the sports celebrities to town was prohibitive.
“But when we began our affiliation with the Phillies in 2007, they agreed to treat our banquet as part of their annual winter caravan that visited their affiliated communities as part of their public relations functions. This was great for us as it provided built-in guests at no cost. They would always bring a player, broadcaster, and administrative personnel.”
Included in several of those earlier banquets was Hall-of-Fame and Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, who proved to be more popular than any of the Phillies players. For me, it also provided a meeting with Kalas I’ve long remembered.
That evening the Crosscutters auctioned off large vinyl banners of Phillies representatives attending the banquet. One of those was a Harry Kalas banner. I had a chance meeting with Kalas during my college days at the University of Houston and had long followed his broadcasting career. He had no idea who I was, but I was intent on winning the auction bidding for his poster.
That quest was achieved, albeit being at a purchase price that certainly caught Jean’s surprised attention.
Following the banquet, Kalas was kind enough to sit with me, autograph the poster and talk baseball. That meeting led to future correspondence with the Phillies’ voice. His note and a picture we took together are still looking down at me from the wall above my computer workspace.
After several years with the Phillies, the team’s inclusion with the Hot Stove Banquet began to wane as the team limited their public appearance to Reading and the Lehigh Valley areas. Since then, with the help of their baseball connections, Sinicropi has been able to attract interesting guests at a friendlier rate than some of the other things they do. This has helped us maximize the amount of money they’ve been able to donate to local charities (usually $5,000-$7,000 yearly).
One of Sinicropi’s greatest memories from past banquets came from a guest who wasn’t a baseball player.
“Several years ago, I had seen Dwier Brown (the actor who played the father of Kevin Costner’s character in the 1989 movie Field of Dreams) give a presentation at a baseball function. I was impressed and contacted him about coming to Williamsport for the banquet in 2019. Even though he wasn’t a player, his association with the movie connected to the crowd; he gave an awesome presentation and received a rousing ovation.”
With the Hot Stove Banquet in the rearview mirror, Sinicropi and his Crosscutters crew are turning their attention to the upcoming 2023 MLB Draft League season. Now in its third year, the league schedule for the 80-game season looks to provide fans with a more interesting competitive balance.
Caused mainly by concerns over COVID-related travel, the bulk of the Crosscutters games in 2021 and 2022 were played against State College and Trenton. In those two seasons, 56 games, or 70% of the schedule, were against the Spikes and Thunder.
That has changed for 2023, with the schedule featuring a more balanced look. This year, Williamsport will play 19 games with neighboring State College and 16 with the New Jersey-based Thunder. The remaining 45 games will see the team play 15 games each with West Virginia, Mahoning Valley, and Frederick.
“We are happy with the new balanced schedule and glad to have those COVID schedule issues behind us,” Sinicropi added. “It adds a little more travel for the team, but it will be more interesting for the fans to see different teams more often.”
The Crosscutters 2023 season will run from June 1 through September 2.