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Are too many teams playing at Appalachian Power Park?

by Jacob Messer

Charleston Daily Mail sportswriter


Only eight days remain until the West Virginia Power opens the 2007 minor league baseball season.


However, weather permitting, 26 games will have been played on the Appalachian Power Park diamond by the time the Class A club begins South Atlantic League play -- and it would have been 32 if six games hadn't been cancelled or postponed because of wet weather.


That is because team and city officials have allowed local middle school, high school and college teams to play some of their games at the 3-year-old stadium.


Doing so can be problematic. Just look at last season as an example.


The field had noticeable wear and tear less than two months into the 2006 season.


There were bare spots behind the plate and around it, plus the on-deck spots diagonal to it; around the mound; halfway up the first- and third-base lines and beside the corresponding bags and coaches' boxes; on the edge of the outfield behind shortstop and second base; and beside the bullpens, particularly the one on the home side.


Part of the wear and tear was caused by wet weather and cooler-than-normal temperatures. Some of it was day-to-day use.


That prompted former Power General Manager Andy Milovich, who now is the executive vice president of Palisades Baseball Inc., to say the number of non-South Atlantic League games played at Appalachian Power Park would be an issue this season.


"That is a decision the team and the city have to make," Milovich told the Charleston Daily Mail last May. "Is it important to have a first-class playing facility that meets Major League standards? Or is it important that everyone who makes a phone call and wants to play on the field gets a chance to play on the field?"


Somebody -- at either 601 Morris Street (team headquarters) or 501 Virginia Street (City Hall) -- apparently decided it was the latter considering 12 college, four middle school and two high school teams are scheduled to play at Appalachian Power Park before the home team's season opener.


"We have been a little heavier earlier in the schedule (than we were in the stadium's first two seasons)," Power General Manager Ryan Gates acknowledged.


Gates said the organization and the stadium "are about the community."


"We try to open the gates to the public as much as we can," said Gates, whom Milovich promoted from director of business development. "But we have to limit what we do. The ballpark is an investment, and we're cognizant of the field."


Appalachian Power Park groundskeeper Eric Bailey said the additional use doesn't affect the field as much as the weather does.


"It will hold its own as far as the foot traffic," Bailey said. "The games cause a little bit of wear and tear, but the biggest setback is the weather because it's warm in the day and cold at night. What you gain during the day, you lose during the night."


That means the soil temperature isn't warm enough for Bailey and his crew to spray the bluegrass field with the assortment of chemicals that helps it grow, gives it color and provides it with protection.


The high temperatures this week have helped, he said, and it is close to the desirable 50 degrees.


"If you spray the field and the soil temperature is less than that, then you're just wasting your time and your money because it won't help," said Bailey, who plans to spray the field for the first time Wednesday. "It doesn't matter how much you spray.


"But if it stays warm, we'll be OK."


Bailey said the field is fortunate because the grass still is dormant, which means the weather isn't causing much damage. The condition of the grass already is improving, he said. It had a yellow-brown tint two weeks ago; it has a green tint now.


Bailey also has solved one of the problems from last season. He repaired the sand levels and cleared the drains on the right side of the field this week.


"Water couldn't get to the drains," said Bailey, who also is a University of Charleston assistant coach. "Now, it can. I can assure you that you won't see the amount of wear and tear on the right side that you saw last year."


Bailey, a soft-spoken man who is known as one of the nicest guys at the ballpark, also has taken charge when it comes to the foot traffic on the field. He isn't afraid to tell coaches and players where they can and can't walk, stand, hit, throw, run and stretch.


In other words, no more Mr. Nice Guy, right?


"That's it," Bailey said with a laugh.


Who can blame him? Remember, he is the one who is responsible for the field at the end of the day.


"That's on me more than anybody," said Bailey, whose pet peeve is teams that warm up on the foul lines. "The first two years, I wasn't really a stickler about it. This year, I have been. Now, I'm pretty comfortable telling them you don't do this or you don't do that here."

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