By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Fatigue will always be a battle for players and coaches to fight in the Prospect League. But for the last two years, the league helped to at least lighten that burden by scheduling only intradivisional regular-season games and letting teams have most Mondays off.
That won’t be the case next summer.
Crossover games are back on the schedule — albeit to a much lesser degree than in the past — for the West Virginia Miners and the Prospect League’s 10 other teams. The league released its schedule late last week, and for the first time since 2011, the Miners will open the season on the road.
West Virginia will visit the Butler BlueSox Thursday, May 28, for the start of a two-game series to open its fifth season and defense of its back-to-back league championships.
The Miners’ first game at Linda K. Epling Stadium will be Saturday, May 30, for a two-game set against league newcomer Champion City Kings — formerly the Slippery Rock Sliders. The Richmond RiverRats will then come into town for two games.
There are some things that are unchanged — 30 home dates in a 60-game season, no scheduled doubleheaders and a midseason All-Star game. This year’s game will be played in Terre Haute, Ind., on Tuesday, July 8.
There are also a few changes. In addition to the crossover games, Mondays are no longer off-days. East Division teams have played only two Monday games in each of the last two seasons, but the five-team West did not have that luxury.
The crossover games are minimal — the Miners have just five total. They and the Terre Haute Rex will trade two-game series — the Rex will visit Beckley June 13-14, and the Miners will go to Terre Haute July 29-30, then go to Danville, Ill., for a single game against the Dans on July 31.
West Virginia manager Tim Epling worries about the potential for unbalanced scheduling when it comes to the crossover games.
“You might end up playing three of their best teams, and somebody else in your division might get to play the weaker teams from the other division,” Epling said. “So it’s (potentially) not even across the board.”
Epling accepts the challenge of keeping his players fresh through a long summer. He’s been there before.
“I have to work harder to make sure the guys stay rested, and be smart about which personnel we take or don’t take (on road trips),” Epling said. “We have to be able to schedule our pitching staff to where it most benefits us.
“It’s easier to rest pitchers than it is position players. Hopefully, we will be deeper at catcher than we have ever been, and hopefully we will have more shortstops in the lineup than we have had. We’ll see if that works for us. I think it will.”
One more change is the return to a split season after a one-year hiatus. The first-half champion of each division will have home-field advantage over the second-half champion in a best-of-3 series starting Aug. 6.
The division series winners will meet in the best-of-3 league championship series starting Aug. 10. Game 1 will be at the team representing the losing division at the All-Star game. After a travel day, Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) will be played at the home of the winning division.
Epling is in favor of the split season because of the strategic ramifications.
“I like that. You’ve got two chances to get into the playoffs,” he said. “In the past, that has worked in our favor. We jumped out quick on people.
“It would allow us to prepare and kind of set our focus on what needs to be done to prepare for the playoffs. If you win the first half, then at the end of the second half, where we have some tough road trips, that would make it easier for us to prepare.”
Seven of the Miners’ final nine games will be on the road, including the games in Terre Haute and Danville.
“If we’re in a tight battle — which we usually are — that could be a difference maker,” Epling said.
Season ticket information for the Miners will be announced soon.
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