On March 18, 2004, the shovels hit the dirt for the first time on the site designated to save baseball in Charleston. A new downtown baseball diamond was to be built after 56 years at Watt Powell Park in Kanawha City.
A collaborative effort was necessary to keep a team in the city. Charleston's first ball club, the Statesmen, took the field in 1910, though baseball was not always a constant. The city was without its favorite pastime from 1917 through 1930, during and shortly after World War II, 1965 until 1970, and for two years in the mid-1980's.
Modern baseball economics could not survive in Watt Powell Park and several groups worked to preserve the game in Charleston. From political support and work with the Economic Development Grant Commission to WVWINS, a community action group that mobilized local fans and businesses to back the project, an East End ballpark was put on the map. Appalachian Power would quickly agree to take on the naming rights to the new 23 million dollar facility.
The move to Appalachian Power Park was accompanied by a change in team branding. The Charleston baseball club has been known by several names over the years. From its' earliest incarnation as the Statesmen to a long run as the Senators (1912-61) to the Indians (1962-64) and the Charlies (1971-83), fans had an array of parent clubs, players, and mascots to root for. After a short hiatus, the city saw baseball return as the Wheelers (1987-1994) and the Alley Cats (1995-2004) in the South Atlantic League.
The team took to the field for the first time in April of 2005 as the West Virginia Power, a strong homage to the vast array of energy sources across the state. On April 14, the club beat Hagerstown 8-3 in front of a crowd of 5,354. One of Minor League Baseball's newest crowned jewels was open for business.
Since 2005, the Power has won over 500 regular season games at Appalachian Power Park, spanning two Major League parent clubs. From the inaugural year until the end of 2008, West Virginia served as a farm team for the Milwaukee Brewers. Those initial seasons saw record crowds through the gates to watch future stars like Yovanni Gallardo, Ryan Braun, and Alcides Escobar.
In 2009, the Power became an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, returning many fans to their roots. The 1970's-era Charlies teams were also in the Pirates Minor League system that saw players like Dave Parker, Kent Tekulve, and Tony LaRussa grace the field. Now top draft choices and international signees would highlight the park, including Tony Sanchez, Jameson Taillon, Alen Hanson, and Gregory Polanco.
Hundreds of young ballplayers have donned a West Virginia Power jersey and played at Appalachian Power Park since 2005, and to date, 77 have gone on to play in Major League Baseball.
In 2009, the West Virginia Power hosted the South Atlantic League's mid-summer classic, dubbed the All-Star Jamboree. The festivities included a whitewater rafting and zip-lining trip, a concert, coal mine tours, the Home Run Derby contest (won by Power All-Star Calvin Anderson), and a sellout crowd for the game itself. Appalachian Power Park also plays host to several colleges. Marshall University and the University of Charleston's baseball programs have utilized the stadium as its' home field since 2005. In 2013, West Virginia University played three Big 12 series in Charleston at the ballpark.
In addition to the professional and college games, Appalachian Power Park has been the home to the state's high school baseball tournament. The West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission plays out three rounds of tournament play between three levels and the best programs in the state determine champions every June.
A venue like Appalachian Power Park has proven to be very versatile over the years. The stadium and its staff have held a wide array of non-baseball events since 2005. Every February, the Special Olympics of West Virginia host the Polar Plunge on the third base concourse. Willing participants climb a ladder and leap into a temporary set-up and filled with icy cold water to raise money for the local chapter.
The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau takes full advantage of the space available, using the ballpark for events like the World Championship Chili Cook-off or American Cornhole Championship.
Countless numbers of charity walks are held here annually, as are community events like Trick-or-Beat. Every Halloween, the ballpark opens for trick-or-treaters to provide a safe and well-lit environment to collect their haul, provided by local businesses and the Power front office.
Nationally renowned musical acts have played at the Appalachian Power Park since it opened, including Def Leppard, the Davisson Brothers Band, Randy Travis, and Craig Morgan, providing a new audience to the grandeur of the ballpark.
2014 marked the tenth season of West Virginia Power baseball and Appalachian Power Park. The campaign included great giveaways to commemorate the anniversary, two concerts and a talented roster full of top prospects. The naming rights were also extended during this memorable season, thus ensuring that the jewel of the South Atlantic League will remain under the same name for the next ten years.
FIRST GAME: Thursday, April 14, 2005
FIRST OPPONENT: Hagerstown Suns
FIRST PITCH: Thown by Derek Decarlo at 7:46pm
FIRST HIT: Dante Brinkley (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST RUN: Dante Brinkley (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST RBI: Dante Brinkley (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST EXTRA BASE HIT: Dante Brinkley (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST HOMERUN: Dante Brinkley (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST STOLEN BASE: Carlos Gomez (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST SINGLE: Carlos Gomez (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST DOUBLE: Will Lewis (West Virginia Power)
FIRST TRIPLE: Hernan Iribarren (West Virginia Power)
FIRST WALK: Josh Murray (West Virginia Power)
FIRST STRIKEOUT: Derek Decarlo (West Virginia Power)
FIRST ERROR: Wilson Batista
FINAL SCORE OF THE FIRST GAME: West Virginia Power 8 - Hagerstown Suns 3
OPENING NIGHT ATTENDANCE: 5,354
TIME OF FIRST GAME: 2 hours 26 minutes
WINNING PITCHER: Derek Decarlo
LOSING PITCHER: Jeff Landing (Hagerstown Suns)
FIRST SAVE: Yovani Gallardo