In an effort to drum up area interest, the West Virginia Power made sure that the inaugural roster in the independent Atlantic League would have some local ties.
The headlining name in that venture is pitcher Arik Sikula, the former South Charleston, Hurricane and Marshall pitcher who has been tabbed as the opening-night starter when the Power opens the season against the Southern Maryland Blue Claws at 7:05 p.m. Friday at Appalachian Power Park.
A second hurler with local ties is Aaron Blair, who signed with the Power on May 14, bringing his baseball career full circle.
Blair, a Las Vegas native, has logged plenty of innings on the mound at Appalachian Power Park as a standout pitcher for Marshall before he embarked on a tour through the minor leagues and a couple of stints with the Atlanta Braves.
Now with the Power, Blair is trying to do what everyone else in the Atlantic League is trying to do — catch the eyes of MLB scouts and earn a trip back to the show. He’s slated to start the Power’s second game Saturday night.
“It’s going to be a different level of baseball than [the fans are] used to seeing with the West Virginia Power,” Blair said during the team’s media day last week. “In years past it was 19-, 20-, 21-year-old guys in low-A ball, and this will be guys trying to get back to the big leagues or make a name to get to the big leagues. So, I think the level of competition in this league and within this team in general will be a little bit different than what people are used to seeing.”
Area fans of the team are also not used to seeing one of their own, but along with Sikula, Blair will give fans the opportunity to do just that.
“It’s really special,” Blair said. “Family is close in the area, college coaches still down at Marshall, a lot of close people in my contacts I still keep in contact with that are going to be here and are going to watch me, so I’m looking forward to being back.”
Blair should feel right at home in Charleston, since all of his Conference USA home starts for Marshall came at Appalachian Power Park.
Blair remains the highest-drafted baseball player in Marshall program history, going to the Arizona Diamondbacks with the 36th overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft.
He ranks sixth all time with 200 strikeouts in 202 innings over three years at Marshall before leaving after his junior season. His 34 career starts are 11th among Thundering Herd pitchers.
Blair piled up some other distinctions along the way, including a first-team All-CUSA nod and two league pitcher of the week awards in his junior season. That year also included a win in an 8-0 shutout of West Virginia University at Appalachian Power Park, an early-season tilt in which Blair struck out 11 and fired six shutout innings.
More than on-the-field success however, Blair met his wife Caitlyn, a Herd golfer, in Huntington as well. Blair, who celebrated his 29th birthday on Wednesday, certainly holds a special love for the state, the ballpark, the people and the university. So much so that one of the first talking points of the interview surrounded the Herd men’s soccer team, which had just polished off a run to a national championship with a win over Indiana.
“Being a son of Marshall always holds a special place for me. I met my wife there and baseball turned out well,” Blair said. “And then the run that they had during the soccer tournament, being an unseeded team, playing the No. 1 team in the country, beating them, beating basically a home team in North Carolina and then playing Indiana, the perennial powerhouse in men’s Division I soccer and beating them in overtime, that’s special for the fans and the university.”
But when it comes to life in the Mountain State, Blair isn’t giving away too many secrets to his new Power teammates.
“I haven’t told them much,” Blair said. “It’s a place you have to embrace and endure and you go with it day by day. I’ve enjoyed my time here, I’ll always enjoy my time here. My wife’s family is from the Fairmont area, my school is right down the road, so West Virginia holds a pretty good place in my heart.”