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wv power toastman

Rod “Toastman” Blackstone leads the fans in cheers at Appalachian Power Park.

October baseball is here in Charleston!

For anyone who says they’re a baseball fan and everyone who enjoys the benefits of having professional baseball in Charleston, that news should provide a motivation to support the home team, now more than ever.

Considering that our community came painfully close to losing professional baseball during the Major League Baseball purge of its minor league system, the fact that we still have West Virginia’s only professional baseball team — and it’s competing for an Atlantic League championship in October — should mean a packed Appalachian Power Park for the first game of the North Division playoff series at 6:05 p.m. Monday.

Nearly two years since MLB leaders threw the future of baseball in Charleston a nasty curve ball, we have a chance to cheer our own October baseball heroes.

Jimmy Paredes, who played in the major leagues through six seasons, staked a claim with home runs in each of our last four homes games of the regular season, including a dramatic walk-off three-run bomb to win the game last Sunday.

Maybe it will be Alberto Callaspo, who spent 10 seasons in the majors and chose to play here for the love of the game. Or Arik Sikula, who pitched for Hurricane High School and Marshall University before embarking on a 10-year pro career that’s led him to be one of the top pitchers in the Atlantic League this year for his hometown team.

Perhaps our October hero will be Edwin Espinal, who played for our team in 2014 and came back to the place where he could feel at home, or Scott Kelly, who gives 110% on the field and in community outreach, or Elmer Reyes, who became a naturalized US citizen this year and chose to continue his career here in Charleston.

Charleston has winning players here because of a team effort to make this happen this year, led by owner Andy Shea, who worked with Charleston Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and her chief of staff, Matt Sutton, to keep professional baseball alive in our city. Andy brought in a new team president, Chuck Domino, one of the most accomplished minor league baseball executives with a track record of success in every community where he has worked.

Adding Chuck and Vice President Mary Nixon to Jeremy Taylor and several others in the front office with strong ties to our team and local fans, our hometown team has the most experienced leadership it has had in the 30 seasons I’ve been a fan here.

Without a longtime, successful brand that other teams have developed over decades and, as happens every time there’s been new owners of our city’s baseball team for at least 60 years, they led a rebranding of the team name to refresh and reinvigorate the franchise.

Baseball is fundamentally an entertainment business, after all, and appealing only to baseball purists in both merchandising and marketing is unfortunately a recipe for failure. To sustain and grow a team in a smaller, more marginal market, the brand has to look to the future, not long for the past, and has to emphasize the fun and entertaining side of the overall baseball experience. That’s Sports Marketing 101.

I’ve seen social media posts longing for a bygone era when we had AAA baseball and wishing the name change would take us back. Yet how many of those lamenters showed their support for the Charlies throughout this season when our home team played in throwback Charlies uniforms twice a week, including on our AARP-sponsored Throwback Tuesdays that paid homage to that very era? I was there, paying for my Charlies jersey and box- seat tickets. Were you?

I confess I was not here after 1983 when our beloved city lost that team (to a smaller town in Maine!) because the community support for the home team had become more virtual than actual. Because professional baseball means so much to the quality of life and economics of our city and region, I pray that never happens again.

Refreshing for the future, reinvigorating with an appeal to younger fans and making a historic connection to this region, the Charleston Dirty Birds are competing for Charleston’s first professional baseball championship in 31 years.

If the connection to our state’s mining history makes you queasy, you can join me in viewing it as a shout-out to everyone who does a dirty job because somebody has to do it so the rest of us can survive, live and thrive.

That includes front-line health care workers who’ve put their own lives at risk caring for others during a pandemic; first responders who go into all kinds of dirty, potentially dangerous situations for the sake of others; people who clean our homes, hotel rooms, medical facilities and even bedpans and bathrooms; workers who pave the streets we drive on or dig the trenches, lay or fix the utility lines we need; the farmers, factory workers and truck drivers who grow, produce and deliver what we eat and drink or the products we use; teachers, child-care workers and others raising children who seldom stay clean; cooks, servers and busing staff everywhere we like to eat and drink; lawn mowers, landscapers and even ballpark tarp pullers; and so many more.

There are a whole lot of people who get dirty working hard so the rest of us can survive, live and thrive — just like the coal mine canaries who never even signed up for their dirty jobs.

Oh, and I know a few dozen guys who play baseball and get dirty trying to win so we can enjoy the game and the experience with friends and family.

I hope you’ll join me in rooting for them and supporting our home team, the Charleston Dirty Birds — West Virginia’s only surviving professional baseball team — in their quest for a championship this year and toward a thriving future for our hometown team.

Rod Blackstone, also known as “The Toastman,” is a 30-year season-ticket holder for Charleston’s professional baseball teams.