Errors lead to a split

Jenny Harnish/The Register-HeraldWest Virginia Miners pitcher Michael Maiolo hurls a ball against the Chillicothe Paints during game one of a doubleheader July 4, 2019, at Linda K. Epling Stadium.

After a summer without baseball, West Virginia Miners fans will be eager to see the team again in 2021. When they do, they will notice a new look to the Prospect League.

The 2021 season will begin Thursday, May 27, the league announced Monday. The Miners will open that night at the Johnstown (Pa.) Mill Rats, one of four new Prospect League teams. They will debut at home against the Mill Rats the next night.

As usual, the Miners will have 30 home games and 30 games on the road. Six of those home dates will be Sunday games.

With expansion sending the league up to 16 teams, there will be a new format this summer. Teams will be divided into two eight-team conferences — Eastern and Western — and each conference will be split into two four-team divisions.

In addition to the Mill Rats, the Alton (Ill.) River Dragons, the Burlington (Iowa) Bees and the Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings will all be making their debuts. The Bees and LumberKings had been longtime members of the Midwest League but did not survive Major League Baseball's restructuring of the Minor League system.

The Miners will play in the Eastern Conference and their divisional foes will be Champion City, Chillicothe and Johnstown. The other Eastern teams will be Danville, Lafayette and Illinois Valley (formerly DuPage).

In the Western Conference will be Alton, Cape, O'Fallon (formerly the Hannibal Hoots) and Springfield in one division and Burlington, Clinton, Normal and Quincy in the other.

"Im excited about the expansion for sure," Miners manager Tim Epling said. "Any time you see a league expand the way we are, it lets you know the direction we are going, and it's very positive for the venue we are in, the collegiate league."

The Miners will play only the teams in their division, plus two cross-divisional series against Lafayette. This will cut down somewhat on travel for the Miners, who are just behind Johnstown as the Eastern-most team in the league.

"When we go away, we still have to stay overnight," Epling said. "We're going to save a handful of the overnight stays, which really helps us with the expenses. When you travel with 25 to 30 players, the expenses of that can be pretty steep. That's going to help us out financially a little bit."

The season will be divided into two halves. The winners of each half will meet in a one-game divisional championship on Aug. 5, then the divisional champs will play for the conference championships on Aug. 7.

The conference champs will meet in a best-of-3 series for the Prospect League championship. Game 1 will be Aug. 9, followed by a travel day. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) will be played Aug. 11-12.

The 2020 season was wiped out due to Covid-19. Epling said social distancing will be observed at Linda K. Epling Stadium.

"We can safely seat 800 to 1,000 fans in a game," Epling said. "Our goal is to bring in 30,000 fans for the year. If we can do that, I think that helps us be able to offset a lot of our expenses."

Weekday games will start at 6:35 p.m. Sunday game times are yet to be determined.

For more information on ticket pricing and sales, call the Miners box office at 304-252-7233 and leave your name and number.

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

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