The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

May 9, 2014

WVU needs to come back to Southern West Virginia

When asked prior to Tuesday’s win over Virginia Tech in Princeton about the future of games in southern West Virginia, West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey gave an honest answer.

“We are probably going to try and use our brand new multi-million dollar facility as much as we possibly can,” said the second-year skipper, referring to the Mountaineers’ new baseball park, which will be ready in time for the 2015 season. “We will have to see what the future holds, but if we have got a home game and the people of Morgantown really support us locally, and if we are going to attract great crowds, then we are going to spend the majority of our time at home, probably.”

Mazey’s answer is understandable. If you’re going to build a new home, why live in the old one?

But this situation is a little different. Southern West Virginia has shown its love for the Mountaineers, and it’s WVU’s turn to return the favor.

I won’t harp on the fact that WVU didn’t make a return trip to Beckley this year — despite the fact that athletic director Oliver Luck said last summer it would. I still don’t understand it or agree with it — and I don’t get playing a series against Texas in Morgantown after Luck specifically mentioned Texas when he said he didn’t want to subject opponents to the sub-par conditions at the Morgantown ballpark — but it’s time to let that go.

The simple fact is that southern West Virginia has earned the right to see a game or two on its turf — whether it’s in Beckley, Princeton or Charleston.

When WVU hosted Kansas in a three-game set last season at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley, the Friday night opener drew a crowd of 2,053 fans, the most to ever watch a Mountaineer home game at that point. In three games with Kansas and one against Marshall, WVU averaged 1,619 fans in three games at Epling Stadium, and that number would have been much higher if not for a cold, rainy doubleheader on Saturday that concluded the series with the Jayhawks.

Mountaineer fans in the Beckley area were on the bandwagon before it was a popular place to be.

As the wins added up, WVU also got huge support in Charleston, drawing crowds as large as 3,259 for a game with Oklahoma and averaging 1,786 in more than 10 games there. Then, this past Tuesday at Hunnicutt Field in Princeton, the Mountaineers drew 2,084 fans for a game against Virginia Tech.

What’s all this mean? It means that fans in this part of the state care about West Virginia baseball, and they deserve to see a game or two with out driving three or four hours to do it.

West Virginia isn’t like other states. Many Mountaineer fans never went to WVU or have even been to Morgantown. Such a trip, for many, just isn’t possible. But they still love the team that wears their state’s name across its chest and make the most of any opportunity to see those players in person.

Don’t get me wrong. Big 12 series from this point forward should be played at the new park. That’s why it was built, and I’m excited to see what should be a fantastic atmosphere in Morgantown. But WVU needs pick a few nonconference games and pay tribute to its loyal fans in this often forgotten part of the state.

Mazey seemed open to the idea.

“If there is ever an opportunity that arises for me to get out and see a different part of the state and meet WVU fans from all over, I would be more than happy to entertain it.”

Let’s hope this time the Mountaineers follow through.

The WVU-Marshall matchup is perfect. It needs to be played in Charleston or Beckley every year. The Mountaineers and Hokies should also play each spring, and Princeton and Beckley seem to be perfect locations for that rivalry. Ohio State in Charleston would draw plenty of fans, as would Virginia in Beckley or Princeton.

WVU is sure to experience the “Field of Dreams,” syndrome in its new park. When the Mountaineers build it, the fans will come. But that doesn’t mean they should forget the fans that showed plenty of love to a team that had previously seen very little.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH

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