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New York-Penn League club will play in new stadium at Granville's University Town Center
MORGANTOWN - Nearly all the questions about professional baseball in Morgantown were answered Monday.
Yes, a minor league team will play in the new stadium at Granville's University Town Center. Yes, that team will be the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class A-short season squad from the New York-Penn League, and it'll play home games from June to beginning September next summer. Yes, the stadium is supposed to be ready on time for that team, as well as West Virginia University's team and all its non-conference and Big 12 games.
The only unanswered question at a press conference celebrating the occasion was arguably the biggest: What will the team be called?
"That's going to be job one, said Bob Rich, the chairman of Rich Products Corporation and the new team's owner.
That top priority, though, will be belong to the people and not the brass. Rich said the team will have a naming contest and accept suggestions on Facebook (Facebook.com/MorgantownBaseball) and Twitter (@MorgantownBall) and by email (MorgantownBaseball@gmail.com)
"It gives us a good way to start our outreach efforts and to hear from the community about what kind of names they like, Rich said. "As the owner of a club, you don't want to just pick a name out of a hat. We want this team to hit the field running with a name people can feel proud of.
The team itself will be a collection of mostly young players and play a 76-game season.
"It's our entry level, said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "The majority of the players who play here will have been drafted out of high school or be coming out of our Latin American program. For many of them, it'll be their first experience of playing professional baseball under the lights.
Rich, who owns a team at the Class AAA and Class AA level and has won three Baseball America awards for running minor league baseball's top organization, said the public's right to name the team is in line with what be the overall mission should be for a minor league club.
"For us, it's got to be about serving the customer, he said. "Even the interns we hire, they all start out like they're going to be the next Casey Stengel, and we say, No, that's not your job. Your job is not about whether a guy ran through a stop sign or not. Your job is to see if the guy in row 17 is getting the service he deserves - his seat's clean when he sits down, he didn't have any trouble buying tickets, his kids are taken care of, the johns are clean, the food is good.'
"We take care of all of that. The parent club can concentrate on what happens between the lines.
Rich said "everything is out on the table for the name of the team. It could be Morgantown, Granville, West Virginia, North Central West Virginia or whatever location the fans pick. He believes the eventual mascot name will represents the identity of the state - and Rich has a home in White Sulfur Springs.
"That Wild and Wonderful,' I take that seriously being a sportsman, a hunter and a fisherman, Rich said. "That's one thing I love about this state, and I think West Virginia has a chance to explode when you realize what great resources you have for outdoor living.
"That, to me, strikes to the essence of the community. Clearly coal miners and mountain men, those things are part of a great past, but I think it's going to be a fun experience to see what people have to say about the name of their team.
Rich's Class AAA team is the Buffalo Bison, in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and the Class AA team is the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Both are close enough to the parent club that fans can follow a player from the time he arrives until he reaches the Major League level.
Arkansans named the Naturals in part because the state nickname is the Natural State. Rich said he'll always let fan bases pick their team names after a lesson he learned in 1987.
"We went into Wichita, Kansas, assured that the name of the team would be the Wizards, he said of the team that decades later became the Naturals. "We were going to have them wear red shoes. We had advertising that said, Come out to see the Wizards and bring all the munchkins.'
Rich and his people were convinced it would work, and they'd prepared storyboards to visualize their plan for a panel of people they were to meet with at what was then the Wichita Eagle-Beacon.
"They said, We can't wait to hear the name you chose and see your storyboards,' and of course we were excited to show them, Rich said.
Then the newspaper's editor perked up.
"I just hope it's not one of those stupid Wizard of Oz things, he said. "We're all so tired of the Wizard of Oz.
That was quickly ditched, but Rich remembered having a single backup storyboard just in case something was wrong with the Wizards. He showed of an idea for the Wichita Wranglers as a tribute to the Chisholm Trail that was used for cattle drives from Texas to Kansas in the 1800s.
The Wranglers were a fixture from 1987 to 2007 in the Double A affiliate of the San Diego Padres and Kansas City Royals.
"That, Rich said, "was the last time I was ever going to try to name a baseball team."
Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was in Morgantown on Monday for the formal announcement that club's short-season, New-York Penn League team is moving to town.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His bog is at bogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.