WVSSAC considers moving state baseball tournament

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail Appalachian Power Park, the site of the state baseball tournament since 2005, could lose the chance to continue staging the event as the WVSSAC gauges interest from other cities capable of hosting, including Charleston, Morgantown, Beckley, Princeton and Bluefield.

PARKERSBURG — Fresh off the first state baseball tournament with a seeded field, the Secondary School Activities Commission has started the process for yet another first — accepting bids to host future championship games.

The SSAC has sent letters to five West Virginia cities with facilities capable of staging the high school baseball tournament — Charleston, Morgantown, Beckley, Princeton and Bluefield — to gauge their interest in hosting the event starting next year.

Bernie Dolan, executive director of the SSAC, said a contract to host the baseball tournament has never before been bid upon. The event has been held at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston since 2005 and, before that, at now-demolished Watt Powell Park in Charleston, beginning in 1949.

But the opening of the Monongalia County Ballpark near Morgantown has opened up the possibility of moving the tournament to another location. That stadium serves as the home of the West Virginia University baseball team and the West Virginia Black Bears of the short-season New York-Penn League.

“Charleston and Morgantown have expressed an interest [in hosting],” Dolan said, “and knowing we had these three other parks, we extended it to them also.”

The other stadiums include Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, H.P. Hunnicutt Field in Princeton and Bowen Field at Peters Park in Bluefield, Virginia.

Representatives of those five cities have 10 days to respond to the SSAC if they are interested in pursuing the bid. Dolan said the initial contract will cover for four years — including three years, plus an option year. Next year’s state tournament dates are set for May 30-June 2.

With changes already in place in prep baseball — this is the first season in which sectionals, regionals and the state tournament all had fields seeded by coaches — other changes are also being considered.

Several coaches around the state have lobbied for installing a double-elimination format — already being used in sectionals and regionals — or doubling the number of teams at the state tournament from four to eight.

“We’ve talked about it, but it hasn’t moved forward,” said Rick Whitman, coach of Class AAA champion St. Albans and a member of the 10-man state baseball rules committee. “I think they’re pretty much happy with the way things went with this year being the first year of the new changes.

“I think it would be nice if we could include more teams. I think the coaches committee would like to see eight teams. We’ve talked about having eight teams in each class and doing it at three sites, but I can see where that would be a nightmare for some people logistically. They do it in softball, but all three fields [in Vienna] are right there together. In baseball, that would be harder to do.”

Dolan said he’s had two conversations with the coaches committee about expanding the state tournament, either in number of teams or in adding a double-elimination format.

“Both times, we’ve decided to keep it where it’s at,” Dolan said. “One thing with the new pitch-count rules and having multiple games in successive days is problematic to schools that don’t have real deep pitching. In my opinion, I think it dilutes the product at the championship game because you may not have a quality starter to come back.”

Whitman, for one, would just as soon have the event remain at Power Park. In his team’s state tournament trip last week, he noticed a big difference in the condition of the facilities from his previous state tourney experience — which came in 2004, the final year of playing at Watt Powell Park.

“Of course, winning makes it feel a lot better,” Whitman said, “but the field and the grounds crew and the work they do between games, it’s just phenomenal, and I told them that. They drag it, they groom it, you get professional treatment as far as the field goes. It’s improved quite a bit.

“I remember our [2004] game at Watt Powell was the second semifinal on a Friday night, and they didn’t even drag the field between games. I kept waiting for them to do it, and they never did.”

Contact Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RickRyanWV.

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