Professional baseball coming to Morgantown

MORGANTOWN – Minor League Baseball leaders joined with West Virginia University Tuesday to announce that professional baseball will be coming to town by 2015.

Just what team, and with whom it will be affiliated, still remains to be determined. It was announced, however, that it will be a franchise from the short-season, Class A New York-Penn League relocating to Morgantown.

“This is an outstanding location to put a baseball stadium,” said NY-Penn League president Ben Hayes.

WVU, and possibly Fairmont State, will use the stadium to be located just off Interstate 79 at Exit 155 from March to May. The professional team will start its season shortly after the June draft and play through Labor Day.

Hayes said four other teams share stadiums with colleges or universities, including nearby State College, Pa., which shares its facility with Penn State.

“It really fits us well in working with universities,” Hayes said. “This is a relationship we are looking forward to very much.”

The addition of professional baseball to the community will enhance the quality of life for Morgantown and the region, said Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said having such a family friendly form of entertainment will make it easier to attract new business to the area.

O’Conner added it will also enhance the academics offered by WVU.

“It’s creating a laboratory for the students to learn business operations, to learn marketing,” he said. “It’s going to be a working, living, breathing thing for an academic setting.”

League officials have not decided which current franchise will jump to Morgantown. Hayes said there are two or three clubs which could be moved, but noted there is a process which must be followed.

“The reaction in our league has been excitement,” Hayes said. “We don’t take relocation lightly. Some of the cities have been with us since our inception. It’s about finding a good place to call home, and we believe we have found one.”

Mike Parsons, the deputy director of athletics at WVU, said the new stadium will bring the school more in line with other programs in the Big 12. He said the details of any working agreement with a minor league team will be handled at a later date.

The funding for the stadium has cleared one hurdle, as it will paid for by Tax Increment Financing. The plan has cleared the West Virginia Senate, and it awaiting approval by the House of Delegates. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin would then need to sign the bill before any future steps will be taken.

“We feel good about it,” O’Conner said. “There are a lot of places I could be on March 26. I’m excited to be here.

“Things like this don’t just happen,” he continued. “This comes at a time when it takes great vision and great courage to step out of the box. You will not regret what you are about to do. This will be a phenomenal asset, not just for Morgantown, but for the surrounding communities and the entire state of West Virginia.”

The announcement comes just a few months after officials in nearby Harrison County announced that an independent Frontier League team could be coming to the Bridgeport area in the next few years. But having that team within 30 miles to the south and the successful Washington (Pa.) Wild Things the same distance to the north does not bother Minor League Baseball officials.

“The difference between affiliated baseball and baseball is huge,” Hayes said. “You are getting the best players. Guys like Andrew McCutcheon, Evan Longoria, Warren Spahn you’re not going to find that kind of talent in independent baseball.”

O’Conner said he believes all three teams should be able to achieve “a peaceful co-existence.

“You have McDonald’s and Burger King in the same market,” he said in comparison.

“You will have to engage the entire area as much as you can. It could present a marketing challenge. But all baseball is good if it’s good baseball.”