A new ballpark being built in Morgantown, W.Va., has been in the works for the past two years, but the New York-Penn League had kept under wraps the franchise that would be sharing it with West Virginia University’s baseball team.
Over the weekend, that changed. The Charleston (W.Va) Gazette reported that the Jamestown Jammers will be the NY-P team on the move for 2015, and the news was made official during a press conference Monday afternoon, ending the Jammers’ 37-year tenure in one of the smallest markets in minor league baseball.
The Jammers, who will hold a name-the-team contest before the move, and West Virginia will partner as the primary tenants of Monongalia County Ballpark, a publicly funded, $21-million stadium being built on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River and the WVU campus. The Mountaineers will use the 2,500-seat during the college season, from early spring through the end of May, before passing it on to the Jammers in mid-June for the start of the short-season New York-Penn League schedule.
“We’re extremely excited to find a state-of-the-art home for our team here in Morgantown, West Virginia, and to partner with everyone at West Virginia University,” said Jammers owner Bob Rich, who relocated the team to Jamestown after the 1993 season, at a press conference yesterday in Morgantown.
Jamestown’s affiliation with the Pirates will carry over to Morgantown, with Pittsburgh owner Bob Nutting announcing in a press release Monday that the team is “thrilled to be affiliated with the new partnership between West Virginia University and Bob and Mindy Rich. The Nutting family has a long history with WVU and we are delighted to continue our relationship with the Rich Family, (Rich Baseball president) Jonathan Dandes and their outstanding business team.”
The Pirates spent six years as an affiliate of the State College Spikes before ending the relationship without explanation when their player development contract expired after the 2012 season. State College signed on with the Cardinals that September and the Pirates hooked up with Jamestown, a change that certainly seemed like a step down for the Pirates at the time but makes sense with the move to Morgantown.
The new digs in Jamestown will be a far cry from Jamestown’s current home at Russell E. Diethrick Jr. Park, a community-owned stadium built for $60,000 in 1941 that lacks the bells and whistles of modern minor league ballparks. Jamestown’s run in the New York-Penn League is second only to the Batavia Muckdogs (1961), and the two franchises annually finish at the bottom of the league in attendance while lagging behind many of the league’s newer stadiums and bigger markets. Jamestown is averaging 751 fans per game this season, worst in the minor leagues and far back of NYP top dogs Brooklyn (6,142 per game), Lowell (4,302) and Hudson Valley (4,274). Even Batavia—which nearly folded before the 2008 season only to be saved by its neighbor, Triple-A Rochester—has pulled away from Jamestown with a 955 per-game average this season.
The Jammers’ move also represents the changing times in the New York-Penn League, which launched in 1939 as the PONY League (short for Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York League) and was dotted with mom-and-pop clubs. Like much of minor league baseball, the league’s growth has largely left behind the old guard of a previous era. The most recent move came after the 2009 season, when the struggling Oneonta, N.Y., club relocated to Norwich, Conn., after the Norwich Double-A franchise shifted to Richmond, Va.
“There are a handful of cities that are in that situation where the continuing development of minor league baseball puts pressure on facilities, pressure on demographics to support a certain level of business and is jeopardizing our place in some of these towns,” Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner said. “It’s unfortunate, but where we have ended up as an industry.”
New York towns such as Elmira, Geneva, Oneonta, Utica and Wellsville that formerly had NY-P or PONY league teams now have clubs in the New York Collegiate and Perfect Game Collegiate leagues.