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Vingle: Charleston plugged into Power

KENNY KEMP | Gazette
A large crowd filed into Appalachian Power Park Thursday night for the West Virginia Power home opener.

The dirt was dragged. The mitts popped.

More importantly, though, on Thursday night, on the night of the West Virginia Power’s home opener, the temperature was 75 degrees at first pitch.

Seventy-five degrees.

It felt good. It was good.

At that first pitch, fans were still filing into Appalachian Power Park for the game against Lexington. (You only missed a bloop double.)

“Tonight is beautiful,” beamed Power executive vice president Ken Fogel. “It’s good because it gives people a sense of what the ballpark is like during the summer.”

Not only were the newspapers present, but the TV stations as well. The radio stations had tents pitched.

It was time for turn the “Rumpelstiltskin” tale around — and make hay out of the gold that was sunshine.

“This helps a lot because it reminds people we exist,” Fogel said. “I’ve been in markets in which opening day was just another Thursday. For a team that’s been there 10 years or more it can be no big deal. Plus, the weather is usually so cold no one comes if you’re giving away gold.

“To have the support of the media in general is a nice change for me. I came from Akron, where the media doesn’t care because it’s not Cleveland.”

It’s Fogel’s first year in Charleston, but he’s been from here to Wichita to Rancho Cucamonga, literally.

He’s landed in a nice position here. And he thinks the Kanawha Valley will be happy about the team’s position this season.

“One thing the staff did a nice job of — and it was started before I got here — is put together a great promotional schedule,” Fogel said. “We’ve got the Bob Pruett and Don Nehlen bobblehead night [May 17]. We’ve got BirdZerk and ZOOperstars, which are national acts that will come in. We have BBoy McCoy, which is another national act. “None of those acts have been here before. ZOOperstars was on ‘America’s Got Talent’ a few years ago. We’ve added fireworks shows on single Saturdays throughout the summer. It’s an enhanced schedule that we are providing this year.”

That said, so what about this team? It entered Thursday’s game 3-4.

“I think we have potential,” said Adam Marco, the team’s broadcaster and media director. “It’s an older pitching staff than we’ve had in years past. The [parent Pittsburgh] Pirates are trending, at least for us, college-age pitchers. [Thursday starter] Buddy Bordan, Shane Carle — who threw [Wednesday] — and Cody Dickson — who goes [today] — are all like that. We’re used to 19-, 18-, 20-year-old kids, not 22- and 23-year-old pitchers. I think that experience pushes our pitchers ahead of where the opposing batters are.

“We lost two of three to Asheville, but they have 19- and 20-year-old kids. In our park, as opposed to their bandbox, we win two out of three.”

The Power pitchers began the day 11th of 14 South Atlantic League teams in earned run average. The team’s hitters began the day ninth in batting average.

“From a hitting standpoint, we’re a little bit older,” Marco said. “JaCoby Jones, Danny Collins — college players once again — are here. It’s not that young talent like the [Josh] Bells and [Stetson] Allies. These guys have played in college or junior college. I think it’s beneficial to have the experienced team we haven’t seen in a couple years.”

Oh, and if you ever worry about Charleston losing its team, don’t. At least not now.

“We’re doing fine,” Fogel said. “I can’t speak to the years past, but we are in a better position than many teams. I mean, we’re not doing as well as Lehigh Valley or the Durham Bulls or any of those that are drawing 500,000, but we’re doing fine.”

Durham, of course, fares well because of Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon. Lehigh Valley, I firmly believe, does well because the team nickname is the IronPigs. (I still maintain Charleston’s team should be the Whistle Pigs. Ask your closest hunter.)

But Charleston’s team is in good shape. Fogel said it had a pre-game Thursday sale of 1,800 tickets. There’s even a little experimentation going on. In case you didn’t notice, Saturday’s game at the APP begins at 2:05 p.m., not 7:05 as usual.

“That’s the only one we’ve done this year,” Fogel said. “Traditionally, teams in the North do Saturday day games in April and early May because the weather is bad. I said, ‘Let’s try the first Saturday as a 2 o’clock game.’

“It’s a complete change of time. I’m sure we’re going to have people showing up at 6 o’clock [Saturday]. But we decided to give it a try for people who might not be able to come Saturday nights. Depending on how this plays out there’s a possibility of playing at 2 at least the rest of the Saturdays in April.”

However that plays out, the temperature was warm Thursday. The stands were jammed.

And life was good.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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