The prospect of summertime baseball in Charleston was dealt another crushing blow Wednesday.
The West Virginia Power, a minor-league fixture since 2005 and the continuation of pro baseball in the Capital City for decades before that, was one of 11 full-season Major League Baseball-affiliated minor league teams not invited by MLB to retain their minor-league affiliations for the 2021 season Wednesday.
The Power was the Seattle Mariners Low-Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League starting with the 2019 season, but the Charleston-based team was not included in the list of 2021 affiliates that Seattle announced Wednesday.
Unless the Charleston-based team finds a landing spot with an independent league or a summer college league, there will be no organized baseball league team in Charleston for the first time since 1986 — not counting the COVID-ravaged season this year, which, like all minor leagues, was wiped out by the pandemic.
Power officials are not ready to throw in the towel, though, on baseball returning to Appalachian Power Park in the summer of 2021.
“We are saddened to learn that MLB did not extend an invitation to the Power to remain a part of affiliated Minor League Baseball for the 2021 season,” Power managing partner Tim Wilcox said in a team release. “Minor League Baseball has been a fabric of this community since the early 1900s, and consistently since 1987. We have time and again shown that our organization, facility and amenities adequately meet and even exceed the current requirements laid down by MLB.
“However, we are not going to close our doors. Our goal for the last 33 years has been to provide family-friendly entertainment to the city of Charleston throughout the spring and summer, and that has not changed today. As for what that will look like, we are still exploring all options. But rest assured, baseball will remain at Appalachian Power Park in the future, and we want our community to be a part of it.”
Power General Manager Jeremy Taylor echoed Wilcox’s thoughts in the same press release.
“First and foremost, this day is one we never envisioned having to deal with,” Taylor said. “From our entire organization, we want the city of Charleston, the state of West Virginia and our entire fanbase to know that we are feeling this right alongside you, and we have appreciated your unwavering support throughout this process. We are not done fighting for our team and our city, and we will continue to explore every option possible so we can provide the best experience for you, our faithful fans, at Appalachian Power Park, for many years to come.
“Additionally, we want to thank Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito, Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin and the Charleston City Council, Governor Jim Justice, every member of the West Virginia Legislature, U.S. Representative David McKinley, the Kanawha County Commission and the rest of our local and state officials for their loyalty and assistance in this long, arduous process.”
Mayor Goodwin also expressed her disappointment.
“We are deeply disappointed in the news that the West Virginia Power will not be affiliated with Major League Baseball,” she said in a press release. “Baseball is built into the fabric of the City of Charleston and has provided countless memories for residents and visitors alike. We will continue to work closely with the West Virginia Power to ensure that baseball will continue to be a part of our Capital City.”
Sen. Capito (R-WV) offered a glimpse of hope for baseball in Charleston.
“The decision to cut the West Virginia Power’s affiliation with MLB is disappointing and marks the end of a long and storied tradition,” Capito said in a statement.
“This is not the end of baseball in Charleston. In fact, I have been given the assurance by the MLB that we will have baseball in our state’s capital city.”
Capito said she will continue to work with the teams, the cities, MLB and others “that will enable families to hear ‘Play Ball’ again at Power Park.”
The Power has scheduled a virtual press conference for 10 a.m. Thursday to provide further comments and answer questions from the media.
The city of Charleston has seen professional baseball for more than a century, albeit with a few interruptions.
The first pro team arrived in 1910 as a Class D minor league team and lasted through the 1916 season. Charleston was limited to amateur ball from 1917 to 1930, but returned to the pro ranks with Class C teams from 1931 to 1942.
Pro ball disappeared again from 1943 to 1948, only to return interrupted from 1949 to 1964. The baseball void returned from 1965-70, but returned from 1971-1983 with the Charleston Charlies.
The last interruption in pro ball in Charleston lasted from 1984 to 1986, but the Class A Charleston Wheelers rose up in 1987, and then the Charleston Alley Cats played at Watt Powell Park in Kanawha City until 2005, when the Power took residence after the opening of Appalachian Power Park.
The Mariners will retain the Tacoma (Washington) Rainiers as their Class AAA affiliate, the Arkansas Travelers (based in Little Rock) as their Class AA team, the Everett (Washington) AquaSox as their High-Class A team and the Modesto (California) Nuts as the Low-Class A affiliate.
The 10 other teams not invited back by MLB include two of the Power’s former South Atlantic League brethren. Here’s the list (former MLB affiliation in parentheses):
n The Jackson (Tenn.) Generals of the Class AA Southern League (Arizona Diamondbacks);
n The Trenton (N.J.) Thunder of the Class AA Eastern league (New York Yankees);
n The Port Charlotte (Fla.) Stone Crabs of the High-A Florida State League (Tampa Bay Rays);
n The Kissimmee-based Florida Fire Frogs of the Florida State League (Atlanta Braves);
n The Frederick (Md.) Keys of the High-A Carolina League (Baltimore Orioles);
n The Burlington (Iowa) Bees of the Low-A Midwest League (Los Angeles Angels);
n The Clinton (Iowa) Lumberkings of the Midwest League (Miami Marlins);
n The Hagerstown (Md.) Suns of the South Atlantic League (Washington Nationals);
n The Lexington (Ky.) Legends of the South Atlantic League (Kansas City Royals);
n Kane County (Illinois) Cougars of the Midwest League (Diamondbacks).
Frederick and Trenton found landing spots in the six-team MLB Draft League, an amateur league introduced Nov. 30 for draft-eligible prospects planning a 68-game schedule starting in May. The four other teams in the league are the Morgantown-based West Virginia Black Bears (formerly of the rookie-level New York-Penn League) as well as the Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, the State College (Pa.) Spikes and the Williamstown (Pa.) Crosscutters.
The minor-league structural shakeup is part of Major League Baseball’s reorganization for the 2021 season, following on the heels of the elimination of all MLB-affiliated minor-league schedules for 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The restructuring for the 2021 season included the Sept. 29 announcement that the Appalachian League — formerly a rookie league with direct MLB affiliation — will become a wood-bat league for rising freshman and sophomore college players next summer, playing a 54-game schedule.
With Princeton and Bluefield part of the revamped Appalachian League, the West Virginia Power remains the only one of the state’s previously MLB-affiliated minor league clubs without a home for the 2021 season.