Friday, July 15, 2016

Augusta GreenJackets 0 at West Virginia Power 7 (South Atlantic League) - July 14, 2016


West Virginia has two minor league teams, and they both use the state name as their appellation. The Black Bears are in the New York-Penn League and play out of Morgantown, which I visited last year, while the Power are in the South Atlantic League and call Charleston their home. With the Appalachian League having a few teams in the Mountain State, this trip was the perfect chance to finally get to Charleston, which is West Virginia's capital.

The Power was formed in 1987 as the Wheelers, a co-op team with multiple affiliations. The following season they became the Cubs affiliate, and over the next two decades they switched parent clubs five times, including a three-year stint with Toronto, before the Pirates took over in 2009. As well, they changed their nickname twice, first to Alley Cats, and then to the West Virginia Power, with this final relabelling coinciding with the opening of Appalachian Power Park. The new moniker is not a cynical publicity grab by Appalachian Power; it does have meaning on its own, as West Virginia is one of the leading energy producers in the country, while the city does hold political power over the rest of the state.



The stadium is located close to downtown and thus you will have to park in a lot or on the street. I was staying within walking distance, so didn't see any specific spot for fans to park, but the surrounding area is pretty dead in the evening so you won't have any trouble. I didn't notice any bars or restaurants around, other than one inside the ballpark itself. There are two entrances, one at the corner of Brooks Street and Cranes Alley (above) and the Power Alley Grill entrance off Morris Street, where the main box office is located (below).



Tickets are $8 for GA at the gate, and $10 for box seats. As it had been raining earlier, I chose the cheaper option as I knew I could sit anywhere. The seats have no cover other than a couple of rows directly in front of the press box, not ideal for a wet night.



The seating bowl is entirely on one level and stretches midway down the lines. There are suites in an upper level, but they are set back from the concourse, so even much of that is open to the elements. There is a canopy along the third base side that serves as a temporary shelter when the rain becomes too heavy for fans to remain in their seats. Here is where you will find the starting lineups, standings, and league leaderboard. As well, the fan assistance center gives away some great game notes, very useful for finding out more about the Power players.



This canopy is also next to the main concession, but I would avoid that and make your way to the portable stand just to the right of home plate. It serves freshly cooked fare such as quesadillas, brats, and cheesesteaks, all for $6. The food takes a few minutes to prepare, but it is worth the wait, and in the meantime you can chat with the server. The gentleman working on this day is from Harlem, so we had some discussion on what it is like moving from NYC to West Virginia. A different world is one way to put it.



The extra features include a "Road to the Show" exhibit (above), which is updated very quickly; Jameson Taillon made his MLB debut on June 8th and the plaque was already posted.



There is also a Wall of Fame (above) that is definitely worth checking out, Tommy John and Kent Tekulve are two of the players honoured.



After the rain had stopped, a rainbow appeared over centerfield, something you don't see very often. A similar shot from before the game is below and you can see how the colours changed with the sun appearing.



Overall, I liked Appalachian Power Park, though I wish the weather had been a bit nicer.  I suspect that on most nights there are some more promotions and fun zones and the like, but the weather kept things rather muted on this night. It was Thirsty Thursday though, so the $1 beers did help, as did the game, which was well played and entertaining to watch despite the occasional drizzle.

The Game

The contest started an hour late due to the storm, but the field was in good shape as Dario Agrazal (Pirates #30 prospect, below) took the hill for the Power. His mound opponent for Augusta (San Francisco) was Domenic Mazza (22nd, 2015), who gave up a homer to Logan Ratledge (13th, 2015) in the bottom of the first and another run in the second. Meanwhile Agrazal was superb, facing just one over the minimum through five frames, helped by three double plays.



In the bottom of the 5th, the Power had a man on with two out when leadoff hitter Casey Hughston (3rd, 2015) hit a liner to center. Shawon Dunston Jr., recently acquired from the Cubs, misjudged the ball and took a step in before realizing that it was hit much harder than he thought. He chased it down but could not catch it and the ball hit the wall, as did Dunston, who crumpled to the ground. The ball bounced away and Hughston motored around with an inside-the-park home run. Dunston was taken out of the game, but it seemed like Mazza was annoyed nonetheless, perhaps thinking the ball should have been caught. I'm not sure if it was catchable, but Mazza was rattled and couldn't get that final out, giving up 5 straight hits that led to 3 more runs and pretty much ended the game. Agrazal completed 7 strong innings on only 70 pitches (thus earning my Player to Watch award) and two relievers closed the door as the Power beat the GreenJackets 7-0.



Thankfully it was a quick affair at 2:21, with only one walk and no errors, just the sort of game I like after a delay. The Power shut out Augusta all three games they played on this trip, the first time they have earned three consecutive blankings in franchise history.

Notes

Google Maps suggests that you take I-77 and I-81 to get to Charleston from Kingsport, traveling 220 miles in 3.5 hours. However, a much nicer route is using US-23 and US-119, which is 15 miles less but takes an extra 15 minutes. The drive is through some beautiful hills and valleys, and you can stop halfway and visit Pikeville, Kentucky. Named for Zebulon Pike (just like Pikes Peak), Pikeville is most famous as one of the places where the Hatfield-McCoy feud played out. The point is to always check the map to find the best route, which is often not the fastest.



"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and Ted DiBiase (below) were on hand to sign autographs. They also threw out the first pitch; DiBiase asked the West Virginia catcher to throw it out for him and promised him $100 if he zoomed it down the plate. The poor catcher bounced it, so no payday.



Ratledge is the subject of an interesting article in Baseball America. Most college players are drafted as juniors, but those that don't sign give up all leverage in their senior year and it can cost them if they are not true prospects. Will be interesting to see if he can use this slight as motivation to make it to the majors.

I mentioned in a previous post whether Appalachian rhymes with fashion or nation - the answer is fashion, at least here in Charleston as the park was mentioned by name several times. So there you go.

This was my 666th venue lifetime and I was expecting a hell of a game, but the only thing remotely close to anything devilish was Agrazal's record, now 6-6 after the win.

Next Up

I'm stuck in Princeton, West Virginia as the game I was planning to see tonight in nearby Bluefield was cancelled due to "unforeseen circumstances". Turns out that a Black Lives Matter march will finish near the stadium around 9:00, which is when the game would still be going on. I guess there were concerns about safety of the fans, but whatever the case, I'll have to return to Bluefield next year as the team is on the road for the rest of the time I am in the area. It baffles me that something like this can happen in the sense that the march organizers did not speak with the team in advance and a pro baseball game is cancelled as a result. With the club out of town, it would seem that having the march on the weekend would be more practical, but there is still a lot that is not known at this point. I'm used to having rainouts, but this is a first. The way things are going in the world, it probably won't be the last.

Best,

Sean

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