Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate the West Virginia Black Bears opened their first season Friday, June 19, to a crowd of 3,019 fans.
“Good evening and welcome to Monongalia County Ballpark for the first ever professional baseball game here, in north-central West Virginia,” Black Bears General Manager Matthew Drayer boomed over the ballpark’s PA system.
Despite the intermittent rain, Drayer was greeted by an enthusiastic, sell-out crowd as he introduced his team Friday evening. The sun broke through in the third inning and sparkled off the artificial turf at the Monongalia County Ballpark.
Earlier in the week, Drayer said he wasn’t surprised the opening series, against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, was sold out.
“So it’s a great feeling and it just shows you how much this area loves their sports teams,” he said.
The Black Bears are a short-season minor-league team in the New York-Penn League.
Team Business Manager Jackie Riggleman said the Black Bears have sold more than 1,000 season tickets so far.
The Black Bears fell to the Scrappers, 15-7, on Friday.
The new $25 million ballpark just outside Morgantown, in Granville, is part of a tax-increment-financing district approved by the state Legislature.
The project includes a new Interstate 79 interchange and bridge. Plans are underway to develop the western side of I-79, across from the ballpark, as well.
Monongalia County Commissioner Tom Bloom said the project is a win for the entire state.
“Once this is all completed, $30 million dollars of taxes going to the state, so everyone’s benefitting and you get to see a great game,” he said.
Bloom said the development could produce 8,000-9,000 jobs over 10 years.