By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Anyone who spends or has spent any amount of time in Beckley in early March knows what kind of weather is likely to be encountered.
It’s cold. It’s dark. Most often there is snow falling, usually on top of snow that already is blanketing the ground.
There’s a reason college baseball teams in West Virginia schedule as many early games in North Carolina and southward as possible. Spring break trips to Florida probably serve as a powerful recruiting tool.
So, when Doug Epling, co-owner of Beckley’s Linda K. Epling Stadium, learned the date that West Virginia University had picked to play Marshall here, he was flabbergasted.
What kind of snow job is Mountaineers coach Randy Mazey trying to pull?
The state’s two largest universities met three times last year — once at Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, the second at Morgantown’s Hawley Field and the last at Epling Stadium.
Guess which game had the highest attendance.
That’s right — Beckley, which drew a crowd of 2,103.
But, thanks to Mazey’s ridiculous demand of playing a baseball game in southern West Virginia on the first week of March, fans will be denied of trying to top that mark, because neither Marshall nor Epling would bite, rightfully so.
Epling is not happy.
“March 4 is right in the middle of the winter time,” he said. “We would have to de-winterize the stadium and stock the concession stand that one time. Drinks and everything would be outdated (by the time baseball is played consistently in late spring).
“I wouldn’t mind that so much if we had good weather. But if we tried to play on March 4, we wouldn’t get five people there.”
Mazey, in his first year as the Mountaineers’ head coach, never came off as being keen on the idea of showcasing his team around the state. In fact, WVU will only play four “home” games outside of Morgantown.
None of them will be in Beckley, but one will be farther south, at Princeton’s Hunnicutt Field against Virginia Tech.
That only makes Epling angrier.
“I took that as a slap in the face,” he said.
Epling’s problems with Mazey and WVU’s baseball program began long before the scheduling flap. It can be traced to May 14, at about 3 p.m.
“When they came here for the Marshall game, I cannot express enough how cooperative and nice Mike Parsons (WVU’s associate athletic director) was to us,” Epling said. “He is a great ambassador for West Virginia University.
“But it stops there.
“Not Coach Mazey, not his (assistant) coaches or any of his players spoke to us the entire game. And they arrived three hours early. Not the entourage they had with them — none of them spoke. Maybe one or two of the players might have nodded their heads.”
Even before the game, WVU rubbed Epling the wrong way when, mere days before it was scheduled, it requested the date be changed to accommodate its trip to Oklahoma State that following weekend. Never mind tickets had been printed and the date had long been advertised.
“(Marshall) Coach (Jeff) Waggoner had to do the same thing. They had to fly out for a Conference USA (series, at Rice),” Epling said.
“We can’t change that on the spur of the moment, and Mr. Parsons understood that.
“They came here with an air about them. I could not have asked for more from Mike Parsons; he was great. But the rest of them did not speak to us. They had nothing to do with us at all.
“Coach Mazey gave me the impression that he did not want to be in Beckley.”
Which is impossible to fathom. Not only did area fans pack the stadium for WVU-Marshall, but the Mountaineers’ Big 12 series with Kansas was also well attended, and provided some exciting baseball moments.
By WVU’s own doing — it’s obvious the Mountaineers don’t want to play here — fans will be robbed of that opportunity next spring.
To say Epling is disappointed does not do justice to his feelings.
“I have been a supporter for many, many years of West Virginia University,” Epling said. “It’s where I went to school, and I have supported them. I am very disgusted by their actions. They came here with an air about them.
“I was disappointed with Coach Mazey’s remarks that he made in the paper, making excuses that they didn’t bring their front line pitchers but Marshall played their front line players, which was totally false. We had a great crowd and people enjoyed it. It appears to me they don’t care about that at all.
“Their actions, in my mind, do not put the best image out there for West Virginia University.”
— E-mail: gfauber
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter