West Virginia Power general manager Jeremy Taylor never would have imagined his team would end up on a list of minor league teams in peril of losing their Major League Baseball affiliation. Not with a young stadium that has earned loads of compliments. Not with that stadium sitting just a few minutes from Yeager Airport.
But when The New York Times ran a list of the 42 teams in danger of losing MLB ties this weekend, the Power was among them.
“It’s just a shock,” Taylor said.
Three West Virginia minor league baseball clubs could lose their affiliations with MLB teams — the Princeton Rays, the Bluefield Blue Jays and the Power, which calls Appalachian Power Park home. The proposal is part of negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball on a new Professional Baseball Agreement, the pact between the two entities. The current agreement expires after the 2020 season.
While it’s early in the negotiations, people within the club and the city of Charleston are ready to dig in and show MLB that the Power should remain a part of the minor league affiliation system.
“What everybody has to know is that this is the opening cannon,” Taylor said. “This is the very first proposal.”
According to the Times, MLB wants to reduce the 160 teams currently affiliated with MLB clubs to 120, cutting 42 affiliations and bringing in two independent teams. MLB officials say that would let them increase salaries for minor league players on affiliated teams. If the proposal goes through, only one minor league baseball team in West Virginia would remain affiliated with a team in the majors. The West Virginia Black Bears are a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate that shares a stadium with West Virginia University in Morgantown.
The Power is one of three South Atlantic League teams on the list of 42, along with the Lexington (Kentucky) Legends and the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns. Those are three of the northernmost teams in the SAL. Most teams in the league are headquartered in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
One of the factors MLB senior vice president Morgan Sword told the Times that MLB would take into consideration was proximity to both the parent club and potential opponents. The Power began an affiliation with the Seattle Mariners in 2018 after years as a Pirates affiliate. Other factors include condition of the facilities and everyday life issues like hotel availability and general security.
Taylor said that the Power’s proximity to Yeager should be a plus, and that the distance between Appalachian Power Park and the rest of the SAL is smaller than one would assume.
Appalachian Power Park was built for $25 million and opened in 2005. It is the home of the state prep baseball tournament and hosted the 2019 South Atlantic League All-Star Game. Both Marshall and WVU have used the ballpark to host conference games, as well as play against each other. Taylor said the Power has made further improvements to their facilities. Last offseason, the team renovated the home and visiting clubhouses. This offseason, the Power will work with the city to add a new separate dining/lounge area for the Power players.
Minor league baseball has been part of Charleston’s history since 1910, when the Charleston Statesmen played in the Virginia Valley League. The city at different points in the past has been home to numerous teams, most notably the Charleston Senators, the Charlies, the Wheelers, the Alley Cats and the Power.
The sport continues to be a significant part of the economic fabric of the city, Charleston Area Alliance President and CEO Matt Ballard said. Visiting SAL teams alone bring nearly $500,000 annually in hotel stays and purchases. The overall economic impact of the Power in Charleston nears $3 million a year.
Ballard said the benefits go beyond dollars and cents.
“It’s a place to bring a community together,” he said. “It’s also affordable fun for people who can’t go to major league fields. These minor league teams build the fan base for MLB, so I think cutting them around the country is going to be, long term, detrimental to the sport in general.”
The 42 teams on the chopping block would have the option to join a “Dream League,” the Times reported. That league’s rosters would be made up of undrafted and released players. Sword told the Times that MLB would subsidize the Dream League, but an internal memo the Times procured showed that player and coach salaries and workers’ compensation insurance, the largest costs for a minor league team, were not mentioned.
Whether the Power would join a league like that, Taylor said, it’s too early to say. It’s very early overall in the process, so the Power will have to see how negotiations advance before its plan becomes more concrete.
“We recognize the media attention is hard to ignore, but want to stress that it will be business as usual for the 2020 season for us,” Power managing partner Tim Wilcox said in a statement released by the team, “and we have a strong hope that we will be a part of the Charleston community for many years to come. Minor league baseball belongs in Charleston, and we want it to be here forever.”
And when the time comes to make their case, Taylor said Power officials will make the strongest one they can.
“I literally grew up here,” the Kanawha Valley native and current St. Albans resident said. “I went to games at [Watt Powell Park]. I had birthdays at the old stadium. I was here the day we opened the doors to [Appalachian Power Park]. And if anybody’s not going to sit back and let this happen, it’s going to be me, it’s going to be Rod [Blackstone], it’s going to be our ownership group and it’s going to be Minor League Baseball.”