Nothing is final. In fact, it’s just the beginning of negotiations. There is nothing set in stone that minor league baseball teams in three West Virginia cities, including Charleston, will lose their Major League affiliations after 2020.
So why does it feel like it’s going to be an uphill battle to keep them?
Maybe it’s because West Virginians have become so accustomed to staples of their towns shutting down, leaving or, at the very least, being a shell of what they once were. Anyone needing a tangible metaphor should stroll around the Charleston Town Center mall for a bit.
Maybe it’s because the writing has been on the wall for a while. In the case of the West Virginia Power, being dropped as a farm team for the relatively close Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018, and then scooped up by the Seattle Mariners, was confusing, bordering on ominous.
Alongside the Power, the Bluefield Bluejays and the Princeton Rays also are on a list of 42 minor league teams with which MLB is considering severing ties. (The West Virginia Black Bears, in Morgantown, are the only team in the Mountain State not on the list.) That doesn’t mean the teams would automatically fold. The Power and others could join a new league of unaffiliated teams.
Practically speaking, though, that could be difficult. The MLB covers a lot of expenses for affiliated minor league clubs. Although the MLB has stated it would subsidize a new league of unaffiliated teams, internal communications obtained by The New York Times show that the current proposal would not cover player or manager salaries, nor workers compensation insurance, which are the biggest expenses for minor league teams.
Minor league baseball has a rich history in West Virginia, including more than a century of operations in Charleston. Hopefully, team ownership can make a good case to the MLB for remaining involved in Charleston, along with Princeton and Bluefield. The fans can help by supporting their local clubs when the season starts back up next spring. Not only is minor league ball relatively inexpensive entertainment that gives fans a look at possible future MLB stars, it’s big for local economies. In Charleston, the Power has an economic impact of about $3 million annually and serves as a way of getting people downtown in the spring and summer.
These towns, and West Virginia as a whole, need a victory like this. Otherwise, it’s just another asset that has pulled up stakes, leaving those affected to talk about the things they used to have.