Over the last two decades, the New York-Penn League has expanded far beyond the two states in its name. The Class A Short Season circuit currently has franchises in Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont and, as of last month, West Virginia.
The NYPL's first Mountain State entrant, which relocated from Jamestown, New York, has dubbed itself the West Virginia Black Bears. Specifically, the Black Bears represent the north-central metropolis of Morgantown and the surrounding community. Monongalia County Stadium, the team's brand-new facility, is shared with West Virginia University's Big 12 baseball program; the Black Bears, a Pirates affiliate, played their first game there on June 19.
I visited Monongalia County Stadium on June 30, witnessing what was just the sixth home game in franchise history. What follows is a brief overview of the ballpark. An extended dispatch will follow later this month on Ben's Biz Blog.
Into the great wide open
The Black Bears share a facility with WVU and WVU is a Morgantown institution. However, Monongalia County Ballpark is located not in Morgantown but to the northwest in the comparatively miniscule town of Granville (pop. 2,508). The area in which the ballpark is located used to be coal mining country. It is currently surrounded by, well, not much.
Change is imminent. Granville's University Town Centre -- a sprawling assemblage of chain stores, restaurants and hotels -- is located en route to the ballpark, and similar development is planned in the area surrounding the park. Black Bears assistant general manager John Pogorzelski said that there will soon be a new Route 79 off-ramp close to the stadium to accommodate the traffic generated by the new hotels, stores and, of course, baseball fans.
The home plate side of Monogalia County Ballpark is built up against a hill, and as such there is no home plate entry into the ballpark. This leads to a unique feature in that the main entrance, Gate A, is located in left-center field. Fans entering through the gate then embark on (what should be) a leisurely walk down the third base concourse to the seating area behind home plate. Capacity is limited, as the ballpark includes just 2,500 fixed seats. Another 1,000 can be accommodated via a standing-room-only general admission ticket. There is currently no berm seating, since the berm area is too steep to safely accommodate fans.
Stadium entrances are also located at third base (Gate B) and right field (Gate C), which is adjacent to the building that houses the clubhouses and team offices.
It's all about the view
The unique topography of Monongalia County Ballpark makes for a somewhat awkward layout, but any minor inconveniences are made up for -- and then some -- by what is one of the best views in Minor League Baseball.
The ballpark faces to the southeast. That's downtown Morgantown beyond left field (in both foul and fair territory), which gives way to the smaller town of Westover and, most prominently, the natural beauty which lays beyond the winding Monongahela River (not visible from the ballpark). There's a reason that WVU's sports teams are called "Mountaineers," and, of course, within those mountains one can find black bears.
• More on Ben's visit to West Virginia on the Biz Blog »
Note, also, that the main ticket office, located in left-center field, juts up against the outfield fence. The back end of the building was incorporated into the fence, which momentarily increases to a height of 16 feet to match the height of the building.
Finally, the entirety of the playing field, save for the dirt mound, is artificial turf.
If there's one thing I learned when I visited the West Virginia Power last season, it's that West Virginians love their pepperoni rolls (for the uninitiated, a pepperoni roll is exactly what it sounds like: pepperoni baked into a roll). The Black Bears offer a "Loaded Pepperoni Roll," using Julia's Pepperoni Rolls made locally at Chico's Bakery. These rolls are then "loaded" with chili and cheese. What more could you ask for when it comes to a West Virginia-centric concession stand experience?
Fun and Games
If you thought that the pepperoni roll experience ended at the concession stand, then you thought wrong. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a Pierogi race, and the Black Bears follow in the footsteps of the parent club with a nightly Pepperoni Roll race. From left to right (below), that's Hot Pepper Hank, Double Stuffed Dave and Pepperoni and Cheese Patty. Hopefully none of them are "loaded."