Minor Leagues, Major Fun: Baseball in Southern West Virginia

Minor league baseball conjures images of intimate ballparks and baseball players hungry for the big leagues. The crack of the bat, the sounds of the game, all of it is much closer than you experience at the big league ballparks. For affordable family fun, you can’t beat a trip to the cozy minor league ballparks in Southern West Virginia. You might catch one of the major league stars working their way back to the big leagues or witness a future star in the making. Names like Trevor Hoffman, Noah Syndegaard and Josh Hamilton grace the notable minor league alumni, adding to the storied past of America’s pastime in West Virginia.

West Virginia has long been home to minor league baseball. From the Green Stockings of Wheeling in the late 1800’s to the Charleston Statesmen in the early 1900’s, the Mountain State has fielded a number of teams at one time or another.

During the first half of the twentieth century up until about World War II, baseball was an integral part of life in the Southern West Virginia coalfields, with company towns fielding their own teams and competing throughout the area. Coal companies actively sought quality players, often enticing them to play through easier jobs, reduced hours and time off.

In addition to the company leagues, Class D Virginia Valley league (the equivalent of rookie ball today) brought future greats like Stan Musial to West Virginia. The volatility of minor league teams—given how independently owned teams change affiliations with major league clubs and have been subject to the normal economic pressures of any business—made minor league ball an on-again off-again affair statewide.

Over the last 30 years, Charleston has been home to minor league baseball with the Charlies, the Wheelers, the Alley Cats, and now, the West Virginia Power. During that time, minor league baseball all across the United States has flourished, which means more teams in the Mountain State as well, especially Southern West Virginia, boasting three teams, the West Virginia Miners, Princeton Rays, and Bluefield Blue Jays.

West Virginia Miners
Since 2010, the West Virginia Miners, a collegiate summer baseball team that plays in the wooden-bat Prospect League, have called the Linda K. Epling Stadium home. Owned by the Epling family, the Miners are comprised of college-eligible players looking to keep their game sharp and to possibly attract the attention of major league scouts. The intimate confines of Epling Stadium make any Miners game perfect for family fun. In addition to the collegiate league team, the Epling family hosts an area middle school baseball league to provide opportunities for local youth with a love for the game.

Princeton Rays
Princeton began play in the Appalachian League in 1988, becoming an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays in 1996. With a schedule from mid-June through the end of August, you have an entire summer to catch a glimpse of future big league stars. In the past, Princeton has seen the likes of Rocco Baldelli, Carl Crawford and Jason Hammel pass through on their way to the majors. The Rays make their home at Hunnicutt Field.

Bluefield Blue Jays
Bluefield, fielding a minor league team since 1946, boasts a rich baseball tradition. Bluefield had a long affiliation with the Baltimore Orioles from 1958 to 2010, seeing the Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr. passing through on their way to storied major league careers. Since 2010, Bluefield has been the Appalachian League (rookie ball) affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The pace of a baseball game is the perfect way to enjoy summer nights in the southern part of the Mountain State. Cheer each pitch, examine the game within the game, and stomp your feet when the home team brings the boys around the bases to home plate. Whether you’re watching Blue Jays or Miners or Rays, you can be sure you’ll enjoy a fun-filled evening of hometown baseball and being part of America’s pastime in Southern West Virginia.