3-28-13 Big league ball in Morgantown?

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Minor league baseball could be coming to Morgantown.

Three possible franchises are candidates for relocation to Granville when a proposed $16-million ballpark opens in 2015.

According to media sources, Ben Hayes, who oversees the short-season Single-A league, said Tuesday “we’re thrilled about the potential” for sharing the planned stadium with West Virginia University.  Financing for the ballpark, as well as a $28-million exchange off I-79, would be arranged under a tax-increment financing plan that passed the state Senate on March 11. The park, which would be located within the University Town Centre development, now awaits approval from the House and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, before being finalized by the WVU board of governors.

The Pittsburgh Tribune reported the Pirates’ NYPL affiliate, the Jamestown Jammers, applied last September for relocation to Morgantown. Hayes indicated other clubs in towns with sagging economies or poor facilities are also interested in Morgantown, with the possibility of moving earlier if the stadium is constructed in time for the 2014 season, which runs June through September.

That expedited relocation schedule seems unlikely after the TIF plan encountered political snags the past two months. WVU deputy athletics director Mike Parsons said the Mountaineers, after playing this season’s Big 12 home games in Charleston Beckley, are now resigned to repeating that arrangement next year.

But once the ballpark is finalized — and at this juncture only an unforeseen backlash would block the measure — the president of Minor League Baseball, Pat O’Conner, said it will “create a win-win” for the community, the university and the NYPL.

“You will not regret what you’re about to do from an economic standpoint, a quality-of-life standpoint, and an affordable family entertainment standpoint,” O’Conner said.

Because WVU’s current campus ballpark, 42-year-old Hawley Field, isn’t adequate to host Big 12 games, Parsons said the university realized early “that we have to step up to keep up” with its new conference rivals.

The new park also could play host to Fairmont State games, NCAA regionals and state high school tournaments, Parsons said, as well as offseason concerts and corporate events.

Leasing, administrative and maintenance details have yet to be worked out, pending Legislative approval, but Hayes said the New York-Penn League has similar stadium-sharing agreements with Penn State University (State College Spikes), Hudson Valley Community College (Hudson Valley Renegades), UMass-Lowell (Lowell Spinners) and the University of Vermont (Vermont Lake Monsters).

The NYPL, primarily utilizing recently drafted prospects, plays a 76-game schedule each summer. In its 74th year, the league counts players such as Warren Spahn, Nellie Fox, Pete Rose, Robin Yount and Wade Boggs among its alumni, and more recent all-stars, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria.

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