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'Footprint' key in move to West Virginia

One of 14 New-York Penn franchises would relocate by 2015
March 29, 2013

In addition to the two states referenced in its name, the New York-Penn League also includes teams based in Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Ohio and Vermont. In 2015, the circuit's ever-expanding base of operations could include West Virginia.

At a press conference held in Morgantown on Tuesday, the league announced its intention to relocate one of its 14 franchises to the northern West Virginia college town of Morgantown. The team would play in a yet-to-be-built facility located on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River to be shared with the collegiate West Virginia Mountaineers of the Big 12 Conference. The funding for this facility would come via a tax increment financing (TIF) plan that has already been passed by the state Senate and is awaiting approval in the House of Delegates.

Reached by phone on Thursday afternoon, New York-Penn League president Ben Hayes remarked that a team in West Virginia would "help us within our geographical footprint."

"It doesn't take away from the current shape or geographic nature of the league, it just adds an additional state," he said. "But what really turned my head was the location of the [proposed stadium]. It's on a bluff that overlooks Morgantown, along a road that has 20,000 cars going past it every day. ... That location, combined with [Morgantown's] economic outlook, is amazing. Per capita income has increased over the last six months, and major employers in the area include two regional hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and the federal government."

Which current NYPL club would change locales remains to be determined. Hayes dubbed the decision to move into Morgantown a "league-initiated venture," similar to the process that ultimately resulted in the Oneonta Tigers relocating to Norwich, Conn. prior to the 2010 campaign.

"[In Norwich] it wasn't until the lease was negotiated that the [relocating] club was actually selected. It's the same thing here -- if the opportunity is good, then there are clubs that are going to want to relocate."

Three NYPL teams -- the Batavia Muckdogs, Auburn Doubledays, and Jamestown Jammers -- averaged fewer than 1,500 fans per game in 2012, and it's nearly certain that such figures would be exceeded in Morgantown. Batavia is currently operated at a loss by the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, whose ownership group has previously indicated a willingness to sell the franchise, but it is Jamestown that has been subject to the most speculation thus far. The Jammers are entering their first season as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Morgantown is located just 75 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Hayes steadfastly asserted, however, that despite some media reports to the contrary, "no club has been identified" and that, despite Jamestown's current affiliation status, "changes happen all the time."

Whatever team ends up relocating will find itself part of a growing trend in which short-season Minor League clubs share their facility with colleges or universities. Four NYPL clubs -- the Lowell Spinners, Vermont Lake Monsters, Tri-City Valley Cats and State College Spikes -- currently utilize such arrangements, which maximize the use of the facility while allowing the parties involved to share operating costs.

Among those attending Tuesday's press conference was Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, who offered his full support for the New York-Penn League's proposed Morgantown venture.

"Morgantown's population, demographics and corporate community assets make it one of the best small cities in America to call home," he said. "The addition of a New York-Penn League club will give Morgantown yet another resource to enhance the quality of life of its citizens."

Benjamin Hill is a reporter for and writes Ben's Biz Blog.