BLUEFIELD, Va. — One of West Virginia’s senators visited a local baseball stadium Friday to learn more about the sport’s economic impact and give her support to keeping Minor League Baseball teams in the state.
U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., stopped at Bowen Field to tour the facility and speak with local leaders. Two Minor League Baseball teams, the Bluefield Blue Jays at Bowen Field and the Princeton Rays at Hunnicutt Field, play their games in Mercer County.
In November 2019, the community learned that due to the current Professional Baseball Agreement between the Major League Baseball (MLB) and Minor League Baseball expiring when the 2020 season ends, more than 40 minor league teams may stop playing. These teams include nine of the 10 teams in the region’s Appalachian League.
After touring the baseball stadium’s locker rooms and training facilities, Capito spoke about the reason behind her visit.
“This kind of entertainment in sports, this enhances the quality of life in your community, gives you places to go and be with your kids,” Capito said.
The closest place where fans can see a professional baseball game is in Pittsburgh, she said. Going there for a game could cost a family a minimum of $500 for a night.
Rocky Malamisura, Blue Jays general manager, told Capito how his organization works to keep attending baseball games an affordable option for local fans. The goal is to let a family of four come through the gate for less than $50.
Local leaders said that besides enhancing the quality of life, baseball contributes a lot to Mercer County’s economy. Bluefield City Manager Dane Rideout said the two teams have an annual economic impact of $25 million.
Capito said that she was concerned about possibility of West Virginia’s minor league teams being closed.
“So I’m fighting in Washington with my fellow senators and also on the House side to try to say wait a minute, this is a great enhancement to life, to the sport, to the business community here,” she stated. “I want to have the major league to stop and really assess what they’re doing here and look at the impacts.”
“One thing we’ve done, I’ve already signed a letter with my fellow senators expressing deep concern about this, but we’re going to have a resolution in front of the Senate that basically shows our support for Minor League Baseball and all the impacts that it has across the country because it’s over 40 teams, I think, they’re thinking about eliminating; and then I think we’re going to go from there, see if we’re having any impact,” Capito said.
This resolution could go before the Senate within a week to 10 days, Capito stated.
“A lot of times the way you get attention is you get the community to react and you get representatives to react, and then all of a sudden things begin to change. So that’s what we’re hoping for,” she said.
George McGonagle, president of the Bluefield Baseball Club, Inc., said the team’s supporters have been to Washington D.C. where they have spoken to Capito, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va. 3rd District about keeping the teams in West Virginia. They have spoken to Gov. Jim Justice as well.
“This has been an uphill battle from the get go when we first found this out,” McGonagle said. “Minor League Baseball has asked us to do so much. We’ve done everything they’ve asked of us. Senator Capito is wanting to try and take the lead for us and kind push this thing along and help us.”