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Jamestown Jammers relocation completed this weekend

Rich baseball NY-Penn League Team Begins in Morgantown
Jamestown Jammers relocation completed this weekend

It may have gone unnoticed by most Bisons and baseball fans locally, but this past weekend was a big one as far as baseball operations go within the Buffalo Bisons organization.

Bob Rich Jr., owner of the Buffalo Bisons, actually owns three minor league baseball teams. His “AA” team is based in Springdale, Arkansas in the Texas League, and the short season “A” team, which has been playing in Jamestown since 1994, is now no more. Last Friday the curtain was raised on the West Virginia Black Bears, the newest in the NY-Penn League family, and they play at a spanking new ballpark just outside Morgantown, West Virginia.

The team actually has a history before that, founded as the Niagara Falls Rapids in 1989. They played there for five seasons before moving to Jamestown.

The franchise had suffered declining attendance in Jamestown over the past few years, and rumors had abounded for a while that the team was a prime relocation candidate. On the field, their best success was back in 2008, when the team made it to the NY-Penn League playoffs, then losing to their WNY rivals the Batavia Muckdogs in the championship series.

Matthew Drayer has served as the General Manager of the team for 15 years in Jamestown, and made the move to Morgantown with the franchise’s relocation, which for him meant coming back to his hometown. “Jamestown is a nice little town that just didn’t have the population, the ticket sales, or corporate businesses anymore to keep a minor league baseball team profitable in that area. They have a nice historic ballpark, and we wish a lot of luck to them, but this follows a trend with other small New York towns that have lost their teams—Oneonta and Elmira among them.”

Bisons VP/general manager Mike Buczkowski agreed. “Mayor (Samuel) Teresi was great to us the whole time we were there. We made friends there over the years and that made it tough to move. That much tougher when you consider that Jamestown probably won’t get another shot at another pro baseball team anytime soon, given the stadium and the market size.”

Morgantown became the default relocation site when the University of West Virginia needed to upgrade their baseball facility. “Oliver Luck (WVU athletic director) kind of followed the model done at State College, where you build a stadium for the college team for use in spring and fall, then share the facility with a short season minor league team for use during the summer. Then you have a nice marriage here and that’s how it worked out well for us so far,” said Drayer.

Named Monongalia County Ballpark, it is a 2500 fixed seat facility that can accommodate up to 3500 fans counting standing room and planned berm seating areas. It is located just off I-79, and getting there means snaking through a massive shopping center to the back of the property. The building is actually built onto the side of a hill, with a splendid view of the West Virginia countryside.

One of the most interesting elements of the ballpark is that the entire field is turf. That includes the basepaths, home plate and the warning track. “The only dirt in the whole ballpark is the pitcher’s mound, and of the 160 minor league ballparks we are the only all turf stadium in the country,” said Drayer. “It plays a bit differently. No tarps to pull.” Drayer admits that the decision for the turf field was made by West Virginia athletics, who start their season in March when weather in the region could be a challenge. “Players have to practice sliding into the bases, and starting their slide earlier, that’s how the field works,” Buczkowski added.

Much of the influence and branding surrounding the Black Bears came right from the Buffalo Bisons organization. From team president Jon Dandes to all senior management, all made the trip to set up all aspects of the operation, from marketing to ticket sales to concessions to game ops.

“Our leadership team was very involved,” said Buczkowski. Mind you, there were only three staffers during the entire process of planning and putting it all together, so our people augmented their efforts, and that involved several trips to get them up and running.”

Dreyer added, “Buffalo was great. We got so much support from them, and many of the game day elements here were put together in the front offices at Coca Cola Field.”

Elements such as West Virginia pepperoni roll on the concession menu, a local food staple consisting of sliced peperoni, meat sauce, cheese and nacho sauce, a takeoff from the days local coal miners packed those for lunch. And that inspired the pepperoni race, where three mascot pepperonis run the warning track for bragging rights. With tongue in cheek, Dreyer declined to offer any hints if one of their mascots will reach the futility of Buffalo’s famed Celery.

The Black Bears have already sold 1100 season tickets. And despite a rainy opening weekend and one rainout, fans turned out in droves. “This is a great baseball town,” said Dreyer. “I grew up here and fans are ready to embrace the Black Bears. Being a Pirates affiliate right down the road helps. And it’s a splendid venue. We know fans will enjoy it.”

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