Baseball league plan needs time

PARKERSBURG – The commissioner of the Frontier League said that even if another area lands the independent league’s 14th franchise, it won’t be the third strike in efforts to bring professional baseball back to Parkersburg.

“We’ve got quite a few interested cities and places that are building facilities, wanting to build facilities,” said Bill Lee, commissioner of the league, which currently consists of 13 franchises spread from Missouri to Pennsylvania and one traveling team – the Frontier Greys – to give them an even number of competitors.

Communities in Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin also are in various stages of work to establish their own teams, Lee said.

Washington Wild Things owner Stu Williams, who also is interested in owning a Parkersburg team, said in January that if someone else filled that 14th slot it could be harder for this area to get a team in the league. But Lee said league owners voted to cap membership at 16 teams, which means there’s still room for Parkersburg to join and not rush to do so.

“We want to give teams the opportunities to be successful,” Lee said. “I would think right now, the earliest you’re looking at (a Parkersburg team taking the field) would be probably 2016.”

The second phase of a feasibility study for building a ballpark and establishing a team in the local area is under way, looking at financing models and a pair of potential sites – Fort Boreman Hill and the Sixth Street area of downtown Parkersburg.

A conference call was held Friday and Mayor Bob Newell said it appears neither location has a financial advantage over the other.

“They’re both doable,” he said. “They have evaluated both sites, and they’re equal in just about every way.”

Newell said while he wants a decision on whether the process will move forward this year, he’s glad to see the owners won’t have to race the clock to make it happen.

“That’s good news,” he said of Lee’s comments about 16 teams.

Tom Rooney, president of the Rooney Sports and Entertainment Group which is working with the Wood County Development Authority Parkersburg Baseball Study Committee, said rushing to be the 14th team “would be a race we would not want to run.”

“What Parkersburg is doing has a high degree of due diligence associated,” he said. “I’m confident that if we demonstrate the viability of the business plan there and we come up with a private-public partnership that is fair to all, that when the time comes to move, we will get a team.”

That could be a new Frontier League team or perhaps an existing one looking to relocate, Rooney said. He said he also wouldn’t rule out a team in the Prospect League, a summer collegiate wood bat league, or even a Minor League affiliate of a Major League team.

Lee said Parkersburg would be a good fit for the Frontier League geographically. A team like the Missouri-based River City Rascals could tie a road trip against the team here in with a series at the Wild Things in Washington, Pa., or the Lake Erie Crushers near Cleveland.

“They can hit two cities, rather than just one,” Lee said.

Rooney agreed.

“Parkersburg is ideal from that standpoint, for the geographic balance plus the potential for rivalries,” he said.