Until just a few weeks ago, I — along with every baseball fan in the region — wasn’t sure whether there was going to be professional baseball played in Charleston this summer. Luckily, a deal was made for the owners of the Lexington Legends to step in and operate the West Virginia Power this summer in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB).
The first pitch of the regular season for the Power will occur against the Maryland Blue Crabs at Appalachian Power Park on May 28.
Entering its 24th season, the ALPB offers an open classification of play, the highest level of professional baseball other than Major League Baseball.
Heading up the league, which is based out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is president Rick White, with whom I chatted recently about adding the Power as the league’s newest team. He sounded enthused about the move.
“It’s terrific for three reasons: No. 1, the league is expanding its footprint and Charleston acts as a gateway to Lexington, which helps with scheduling; second, we believe the community is going to embrace Atlantic League baseball, which features predominantly experienced former major and triple a ballplayers, which provide a high level of play; and, finally, we feel some of the club’s new faces will help energize the entire game experience for fans.”
Fans can expect a lot of player movement, as over 95 of the league’s players have signed contracts with big league organizations and over 100 players have been transferred to Major League Baseball. Managing the Power this season will be Mark Minicozzi, with Paul Menhart serving as pitching coach and Ken Joyce as the hitting coach. An interesting note about Joyce, he managed the Charleston Alley Cats in their final season in 2004. Joyce led the Alley Cats to a 3rd place finish in the South Atlantic League with an 84-56 record. Oh, by the way, Menhart was the pitching coach for the Washington Nationals, when the club won the World Series in 2019.
Major league teams have been conducting spring training workouts for over a month and with opening day for the Power scheduled for late May, I asked White when will training start for the local team.
“For the most part, our teams start spring training about two weeks prior to the start of the season. So we can look forward to the Power starting workouts around May 13 or 14th, with players checking in, getting their physicals and beginning pre-season training. All of the players will be tested for the COVID-19 virus.”
The pre-season workouts are scheduled to take place at Appalachian Power Park.
In 2016, ALPB became the first independent professional baseball league to sign a working agreement with Major League Baseball. Under the agreement, MLB uses the independent league to try out new ways to play the game. White explained some of the experimental rules will continue this season.
“Some of the innovations are still being worked out with MLB; however, we will continue with automated balls and strikes — we were the first league to feature that and will continue to be the standard for that feature. Other rule experiments will be announced at a later date.”
As mentioned earlier, the league currently has eight teams with plans of expanding to ten as early as next season. Two teams being mentioned as possible additions would be located in Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland. Both of those cities, like Charleston, found themselves on the outside looking in when MLB decided to shrink the minor league system.
But for the time being, it will be minor league as usual in the capital city, and this is one baseball fan who will be glad to hear, “Play Ball” on May 28.