From the Bench: WVSSAC to Vote on Change for State Baseball Tournament Venue Later this Month

By Jeff Toquinto on July 09, 2017 from Sports Blog via

When the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa was on his Major League Baseball home run tear in the latter part of the 1990s, he was often heard telling the media that baseball had been “very, very good to me.” The same statement could be uttered by Bridgeport High School Coach Robert Shields if you ask him how Appalachian Power Park has been to him.
“I love the venue at Appalachian Power Park,” said Shields.
Of course, it would be hard not to love the field if you’re Shields. After all, your team has just won four straight Class AA state championships – the only team in any classification to do pull off the feat in West Virginia history.
Here’s the thing: The venue could be changing.
At the upcoming West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission (WVSSAC) board of directors meeting, a decision will be made on whether to keep the state baseball tournament in Charleston or move it elsewhere. The meeting is in Parkersburg July 19-20.
Understand, the WVSSAC won’t sit down and just say, “Hey, let’s go here.” Rather, back in June they solicited five cities across the state that had proper facilities to see who was interested. The cities contacted included Charleston, Morgantown, Beckley, Princeton and Bluefield.
Charleston is in. Morgantown, from multiple published reports is also in with its new Monongalia County Ballpark. As for the others, it’s not certain. Officials at the WVSSAC offices could not be reached for comment.
From a convenience standpoint, it seems the best choice for Bridgeport would be Morgantown. From exit to exit on Interstate 79 it’s about 30 minutes. That’s much better than the near two-hour trip that it currently takes to get from Bridgeport to Appalachian Power Park.
So with that in mind, one may believe that Shields would like to see it change?
“I hope it stays where it’s at even though Morgantown is closer and we may draw a few more people to games,” said Shields. “I know people may think that it’s because of the titles we’ve just won, but it has nothing to do with it. The big thing for me and I think a lot of our kids would tell you the same is that it’s one of the best natural grass fields in the state; maybe the best. You add that to the professional setting and the tradition that it’s got and I think it should stay.”
Shields has been around long enough to remember when games were played at Watt Powell Park – heck he was a state title winner there too. And he – and many others – may tell you at times things weren’t exactly flawless with the games or the upkeep. Even from a media standpoint it wasn’t always what you hoped for (not that the media should matter much in this decision). But, Shields said everything is rolling at Appalachian Power Park when it comes to the baseball tournament.
“The grounds crew, I’m telling you, do a fantastic job and it’s just gotten better over the last few years. Again, that’s not because we’ve won. I’ve been around the game a long time and can tell you when things are done right and they’re doing them right,” said Shields. “I see how they work between games and sometimes between innings and it is first class.”
Shields said he doesn’t have anything against the ball park up the road. Well, he does have one thing against it.
“It’s an artificial surface,” said Shields, “other than the mound.”
Shields is correct. The field, which doesn’t seem to be getting complaints from those using it, is synthetic turf with sand brushed into the base. He said that doesn’t make it bad, but that he has always preferred artificial surface.
It would seem that the event is safe. After all, the tournament has been held in Charleston at Appalachian Power Park since 2005, which is the date it opened. Prior to that it was at the aforementioned Watt Powell Park – since demolished – since 1949.
Understand, that this is the first time the event has ever been put up for bid. The winning bid will get the tournament for the next three years with an option for a fourth year.
That doesn’t mean it won’t move. The head of the WVSSAC is Bernie Dolan and it was Dolan who prior to his new gig was able to get the state football championships moved out of Charleston and to Wheeling where they seem to have found a new permanent home.
Dolan took an event that was stale – at least from my viewpoint – in Charleston – and he and his group put new life into it in Wheeling. That doesn’t mean baseball will move, primarily with Monongalia County Ballpark having issues relating to West Virginia University potentially hosting some level of an NCAA baseball postseason game at the times of the state tournament, but it means that the man in charge of the WVSSAC won’t hold ground simply on the basis of tradition or grass over turf.
There are also possibilities other changes could come into play this year or in future years. There’s been some efforts to make the state tournament have eight teams as opposed to four and also make it double elimination.
“I like it as it is. The double elimination format, particularly with eight teams, means you have to have serious pitching depth to win it all,” said Shields. “If they change it this year or next or whenever, we’ll do as everyone else.
“I like to think whoever comes out of our section has earned the right to be in a final four. Look at recent years with the strength of Grafton last year and Elkins and Lincoln this year,” he continued. “You get there, you’ve earned it. I’d like to see things left alone, but you won’t hear me complaining if it changes either.”
There’s a reason you won’t hear him complain. After 30-plus years as coach, no matter where the game’s played, baseball has been very, very to Robert Shields and the Indians as much as they’ve been good to baseball.
Editor's Note: Top photos show past games at Appalachian Power Park, while Coach Robert Shields is shown being interviewed at this year's state tournament.

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