CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Appalachian Power Park begins its ninth season as home to the Power and, though the park has been a boon to attendance, the numbers have been falling for the last five years.
In its inaugural season of 2005, APP drew 233,143 fans, which was then a record in the city's professional baseball history that dates to 1910.
As the word spread of the new ballpark's attributes, attendance rose to 240,721 in 2006 and to an all-time high of 248,765 - an average of 3,713 per opening - in '07.
But crowds dropped off noticeably in '08 to 213,030 and to 177,691 the following year.
In the past three years, attendance has fallen more slowly - to 172,344 in '10, 165,996 in '11 and 157,875 last year.
Still, last year's average of 2,356 was a healthy figure and far exceeds most seasons at Watt Powell Park, especially the decade of the 1970s when Charleston played in the Class AAA International League and its roster overflowed with future Pittsburgh Pirates.
In 1971, when pro baseball returned after a six-year absence, Watt Powell attracted 131,894 fans in the city's first season as a Pirates affiliate. From there, attendance dropped in each succeeding season, plummeting to 72,543 in 1976, the finale as a Pittsburgh farm club.
The numbers were similar from 1977 through '83 when Charleston was the AAA home of the Astros, Rangers and Indians.
Charleston entered the Class A South Atlantic League in 1987 and attendance increased slightly, helped by an upsurge in minor league baseball interest nationwide and Charleston Wheelers owner Dennis Bastien, who operated the club from '87 through '93.
It was Bastien's policy to bring people to the ballpark in any way possible, whether it be free tickets or greatly reduced prices or free sweatshirts, caps and bats.
The 1991 Wheelers set a Watt Powell record of 185,389. The 2001 Charleston Alley Cats drew only 83,074, the lowest in the city's years as an SAL member.
Watt Powell's final year was 2004, a year of nostalgia, and attendance reached a respectable 125,979 for an average of 1,852.
Best high school catcher
Although he spent most of his youth as a catcher, Wyatt Mathisen was agile and athletic enough in high school to play an occasional shortstop.
Last year, in his first professional season, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Corpus Christi, Texas, native demonstrated the speed and base-running skills to steal bases at an impressive rate for the Gulf Coast League Pirates.
"I think I got thrown out like four times last year,'' Mathisen said at Tuesday's Power media day. "I think it was like 12 for 16, something like that. I have a little bit of speed. I pick my spots to steal bases.''
As a catcher at Calallen High School in Texas in 2012, he was ranked by Baseball America as the nation's best high school catcher, and the Pirates likewise recognized his talents by selecting him in the second round of last year's draft.
More often than not, the 19-year-old Mathisen will be behind the plate for the Power this season and, among his other strengths, he's likely to excel at throwing out potential base stealers.
In doing so, he should be a big help to his pitchers, said Power pitching coach Jeff Johnson.