The Times West Virginian

March 27, 2013

Minor league team adds to excitement over proposed new Morgantown park

Times West Virginian

— Anticipation over a proposed new baseball stadium in Morgantown increased significantly Tuesday morning.

The New York-Penn League announced its intention to relocate the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Jamestown, N.Y., franchise to Morgantown once the stadium is completed, with plans calling for that to be done by the 2015 season. The Class A short-season league plays a 76-game season from mid-June through early September.

This schedule allows a New York-Penn League franchise to share a brand-new, state-of-the-art park — proposed to be built next to Walmart at the University Town Centre — with the West Virginia University baseball team. There have been discussions with Fairmont State University to also play its baseball games there, and WVU deputy athletic director Mike Parsons said American Legion games and high school tournaments are also possibilities.

There are a number of steps to be taken before construction gets under way, but there is optimism the project that became a priority with WVU’s move to the Big 12 will indeed proceed in the months ahead.

Last year, the Monongalia County Commission approved a tax-increment financing (TIF) plan to help support construction of the stadium. The plan has passed the state Senate but still needs approval from the House of Delegates and the signature of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.

“It does need to come back to the county commission one more time,” Parsons added. “There are also some campus administrative things that need to be done. It will need to be approved by the WVU Board of Governors.”

Those remaining steps would seem to be formalities.

At that point, Parsons said, “we’ll meet with the designers and architects and what they call a criteria developer, and that will help set the stage on what our time frame will be.”

The minor league club will likely help with the financing.

“Generally speaking, there are obviously things that everyone needs to bring to the table in regards to funding,” New York-Penn League President Ben Hayes said. “I don’t believe that the TIF is going to build out that stadium completely. There is going to be some expectation that the minor league club participates and West Virginia University participates. Those kind of details and how much will depend on the design and construction.”

WVU baseball coach Randy Mazey, whose team is playing conference games in Charleston and Beckley this season and likely next year as well, knows how important a new stadium is to his program.

“If you look at college baseball in the last 20 years, every time a program has built a facility like this, the program has made an immediate jump,” he said. “There are so many advantages across the board from a community standpoint, from our team and all the way down to youth baseball.

“This is probably the single biggest baseball event to happen in Morgantown baseball history. From talking to people, I don’t know if anything of this magnitude has ever affected the Morgantown baseball community like this stadium will.”

With baseball from March until September and the potential for concerts and other public events and corporate outings, the region is on the cusp of having a new facility that can be used throughout most of the year.

“West Virginia University is very excited about the interest that the New York-Penn League has in the proposed baseball park at University Town Centre,” WVU athletic director Oliver Luck said. “The legislation authorizing the ballpark and a new interchange along I-79, which was authored by Sen. Bob Beach, is moving through the West Virginia Legislature, and both college and minor league baseball fans are hoping that we will soon be able to celebrate its approval and hear the three best words in the English language — ‘Let’s play ball.’’’

Sweet words, indeed.