For the first time in my lifetime, college baseball was actually relevant in West Virginia last spring.
As a result of West Virginia University’s unprecedented success — rising from a unanimous pick to finish last in the conference to being on the doorstep of a spot in the Big 12 championship game — fans suddenly took an interest in what was happening on the diamond.
And because WVU took its team around the state, playing home games in Beckley and Charleston, while plans for a new stadium in Morgantown moved forward, a new group of fans was cultivated.
It will be another year before the new stadium in Morgantown is ready, so it would only make sense that the Mountaineers travel for home games again this season, continuing to build on the success of 2013. But according to the 2014 schedule that was released Monday, that’s not the case.
The Mountaineers will play four games in Charleston’s Appalachian Power Park, a matchup with Marshall on March 18 and a Big 12 series against Baylor on March 28-30. They’ll also play Virginia Tech in Princeton on May 6. The 12 other home games, including conference series against Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State, will be played at Hawley Field in Morgantown.
“I am excited that we get to bring Big 12 baseball to Morgantown,” said WVU athletic director Oliver Luck in a release with the schedule on Monday. “After last season’s success that saw our program soar to new heights, we really caught the attention of Mountaineer fans throughout the state.”
Excited to have the Big 12 in Morgantown? That’s a far cry from what Luck was saying in May when he came to Beckley with the WVU Coaches Caravan.
“Hawley Field, by Big 12 standards, was at the very bottom,” he said, explaining why WVU chose to hit the road for its home games. “By Big East standards, it was at the very bottom. We didn’t have locker rooms. If a player had to go to the bathroom during a game, he had to go where the fans go.
“I don’t want to subject the University of Texas, which has a beautiful ballpark, or Oklahoma to having to go to the restroom with fans or having to change on their bus or in their hotel rooms. That’s just not the standard that we wanted to set.”
When asked if they would be back at Hawley Field this year, Luck’s response was clear.
“The same things that bothered me going into (the 2013 season) still bother me,” he said. “We may do one (home Big 12 series), because we want to close down Hawley Field with a bang.”
Instead, WVU will do three, and it will subject Texas to Hawley Field and all of its limitations.
The question is, why?
Nothing has changed at Hawley Field. With a new ballpark under construction, WVU isn’t going to put money into fixing up its old one. It still won’t have locker rooms, and the players’ bathroom breaks will still have to be made with the fans. If it was an embarrassment last year, it won’t be any different this year. WVU was a player last season in the Big 12. But it could quickly become a laughingstock this year thanks to its outdated field.
An equally large head-scratcher, though, is why there is not a single game at Linda K. Epling Stadium in Beckley on this year’s schedule?
When WVU hosted Kansas for a three-game Big 12 series there last year, the opener drew 2,053 fans, at the time the largest crowd to ever watch a WVU baseball game in the state of West Virginia.
“We set records here in Beckley,” said Luck in May, even suggesting that the Mountaineers may return for a series even after the new stadium is in place. “That makes it special. We always knew there was a lot of Mountaineer fans down here, but for the fans to come out and help us sweep Kansas was a lot of fun.
“We have a lot of fans down here,” he continued. “It’s hard to get from Beckley to Morgantown. It’s easier for our kids to come down for a long weekend.”
Apparently that won’t happen, and, in my eyes, there’s really no excuse.
— E-mail: chuffman@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.