West Virginia’s highest level of professional sports lies in the state capital of Charleston, where the city is home to a franchise in the single-A South Atlantic League. While football is king in the Mountaineer State, professional baseball has been played for the better part of a century in Charleston. Various teams with differing nicknames and leagues came through town, and for six decades, Watt Powell Park was the home stadium across the river in Kanawha City. The current Sally League franchise started in 1987, and they were known first as the Charleston Wheelers before becoming the Alley Cats.
Venerable Watt Powell was literally crumbling and didn’t exactly have or retain much charm like older parks in the early 1900s. A new park was needed, and the franchise was saved when plans for a downtown ballpark became reality. In 2005, Appalachian Power Park opened, and the team made a terrific re-brand to the West Virginia Power, with a nickname that displayed the vast contribution of energy sources made by the state. Over a decade later, the team continues to take the field in their sharp black and yellow uniforms, in a great little park that features a superfan worth a seat behind home plate.
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Appalachian Power Park features all of the ballpark favorites and a little more, all at a reasonable price. Classics like hot dogs ($3), pizza ($3.75) and peanuts ($4) are available at a few stands, while specialty items such as brisket or pulled pork sandwiches are found down the third base line. An Italian concession offers meatball sandwiches, along with chicken parmesan, while Philly cheesesteaks can be found nearby, too. What is lacking, however, is that local touch, as there is nothing really unique to Charleston or the state (except for Zul's Lemonade). In a ballpark that has such a great concession area down the first base line, one would expect offerings to match that. At least the beer justifies the ballpark, as the "Rowdy Alley" offers four craft beers, including those from Charleston Brewery, Bridge Brew Works and Mountain State Brewing (each 16-ounce going for $5.50). Pepsi and Bud products highlight the rest of the beverage menu.
There is a restaurant with outdoor seating near the right corner entrance; however, this is no longer affiliated with the stadium. Formerly the Power Alley Grill (you can still see signs by that name), this often-changing restaurant is now Paterno's at the Park, where the food is good, but access is not included with a ticket. In fact, the restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
Adding wonderfully to the ambiance of the ballpark is the refurbished brick building that is incorporated into the design of The App. As part of the pre-existing area architecture, designers used the building as the focal point of the stadium, and it currently houses the box office, team offices and the aforementioned restaurant. This design also meant that the entrance becomes unusual, as most fans do not enter near the traditional home plate spot. Instead, the right field corner acts as an entrance, and that leads fans down an outdoor concourse that has a street fair feel. The space is utilized well, and the openness of it all allows people to still be right near the field. While cover for inclement weather isn't abundant, there's enough space to find in case it starts raining.
Seating is almost hidden amongst all of the concourse space, and the very short seating bowl only has about 8-12 rows per section. This brings the crowd quite close to the field, though not all of the sightlines are perfect, as the seats wrap around to each foul pole. The majority of the park features comfortable individual seats that include cupholders. Another unique aspect of Appalachian Power Park is the location of the suites, which hang off of the concession building down the first base line. Looking beyond the outfield is a nice setting of isolated city brick high-rises in the foreground, followed by part of the hilly terrain that embodies the region. A few seating areas in the outfield allow for a view of downtown.
Charleston is the rare urban area inside a state that is dominated by trees and mountains. While outdoor recreation opportunities are plentiful in the region, the city also offers worthy attractions for visitors. Undoubtedly the place to make sure to check out is the Capitol Complex, about a five-minute drive from the ballpark. Sitting right near the river, the gold-domed main building allows tours, and just taking a walk around the inside of the marble-dominated interior is worth it. Meanwhile, the West Virginia State Museum next door is a very well-organized and interesting attraction that is highly recommended (and thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly). Best of all, it's free!
The ballpark itself sits in the East End section of Charleston. Not much in the way of rejuvenation has occurred in the immediate vicinity, as the surroundings include a dated strip mall, half-empty buildings and the city's hospital. There is at least one new improvement, as the Clay Center a few blocks away includes the Avampato Discovery Museum, which is geared towards kids. Excluding the attached Paterno's at the Park, walkable restaurants are limited; however, the Italian-based Soho's in the Capitol Market is nearby. Also worth checking out is Capitol Street, where one can find plenty of bars and restaurants.
Attendance varies, but overall the team doesn't draw all that well, as West Virginia usually ranks in the bottom half of the league attendance standings. I went to a game on a very pleasant Saturday evening and more than half of the place was full. The crowd on hand showed a little bit more pep than the standard baseball audience, and it was good to see that many stuck around until the end (and that was without fireworks).
There is one person in particular that enhances the fan experience, and he certainly has earned the title of a "Superfan." Since 1990, Rod Blackstone has been behind home plate at Charleston baseball games, vocally either cheering or heckling. The schtick is not annoying like you may fear, and instead is quite entertaining. All the better is that he keeps it PG and clean, with any mocking towards the opposing players in good fun. I should probably mention his nickname, "The Toastman," as that is all he is known by in the ballpark. After a strikeout by the visitor, Blackstone will literally toast two pieces of bread and then toss it into the crowd with his signature yell of "You Are Toast!" Indeed, the "The Toastman" has his own electrical outlet near his seat to take care of the toasting. If making a visit to "The App," try to spend some time around his section for entertainment to go with the baseball.
West Virginia's main interstates pretty much all lead to Charleston as I-64, I-77 and I-79 allow for direct and quick access to the city. The ballpark is right off of Exit 100 via I-64/I-77, and parking is plentiful with a couple of options. To the right is a $3 surface lot, which belongs to the strip mall next door. In front of the ballpark is the parking garage for the hospital. The cost at the garage is unclear, as I used this lot and upon exiting, cars were directed to deposit their stub received upon entry and then the gate opened. There was no attendant or pay machine, so it ended up being free. I'm not sure if that is always the case. Getting out of the neighborhood looks like it may become congested, but I did not run into any problems and the exit back to the interstate is simple. One piece of advice when driving in the city is to stay alert. There are a few strange roads and odd rules to be on the lookout for (like differing stoplights for two lanes going in the same direction).
Inside the ballpark, the concourse allows ample room to walk around and the 360-degree setup around the outfield is helpful for space, as well. Men and women each have two bathrooms that are large and spacious.
It's hard to find a cheaper professional sporting event, as tickets are just $5 and $7 (with a $2 increase if bought on the day of the game). Combining that with affordable concessions and potentially free parking, Appalachian Power Park is well worth a visit.
There are a couple sections of seating in the outfield, and one in particular is a classy nod by the franchise. Underneath the scoreboard are two rows of old yellow seats, which used to sit in Watt Powell Park. Bringing these seats over to the new stadium displays a nice eye for nostalgia.
Behind home plate is the Michael C. Paterno Charleston Baseball Wall of Fame. Here, many plaques honor members with informative details on that person's time and impact in the city. One suggestion to the team: do not park advertising vehicles in front of the wall. I couldn't see a good portion of the Wall of Fame thanks to the big fat "Bert Wolfe Ford" truck sitting in the way. On the edges of the wall, team pennants honor all of the titles won by prior city baseball teams, including the current Power.
Speaking of "Power," what a great nickname for this West Virginia team. The name reflects all of the vast energy sources that the state has to offer, including coal and hydroelectricity. This is also a place where the naming rights holder for the ballpark actually seems like a natural fit, as "Appalachian Power Park" does not sound out of place.
Lastly, a huge kudos for hosting the "Polar Plunge." In February of each year, a temporary pool is set up in the third base concourse and participants jump into the freezing water. All of this is for a good cause, as proceeds from the entire event go to Special Olympics West Virginia.
Taking in a game at Appalachian Power Park is a pleasant and affordable experience. Many tourists head to a different Charleston, but this one in West Virginia has an enjoyable downtown and beautiful surroundings. The stadium does well to break off of the typical new ballpark design, and the centerpiece is the right field concourse with the incorporation of the city building. Attending a game is made all the better with the active Toastman sitting behind home plate.
The West Virginia Power (Class A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates) play at Appalachian Power Park, which opened in 2005 and holds 4,500 fans. I would consider it the best of the minor league stadiums I have visited. A clean park that looks like it was just built yesterday with a courteous staff who quickly and warmly answered any of my questions.
Clean, unique and a great representation of a downtown small park. The food at the grill is probably your best option... most concession food was either pedestrian, or not as good as hoped.
Having a professional team at any level is a privilege for its city. The West Virginia Power still have a great stadium for perfect summer days and nights at the ballpark. Just a couple of years after hosting the South Atlantic League All-Star game, Appalachian Power Park is still trying to improve and remain one of the best ballparks in all of the minor leagues. While the park is great, there is still one glaring weakness.
As a native of the Charleston area, I grew up in the Charleston area. My first baseball game ever was at old Watt Powell Park. When I heard the end was near for Watt Powell, I was a bit saddened, but APP was a very fitting replacement. The new park is on the edge of Charleston's "East End" and "Downtown". There truly isn't a bad seat in the house with only maybe 12 rows of seats down the baselines. For a different view, the old Watt Powell seats in the outfield are great to sit at and enjoy the game. Honestly, the best seats might be near home plate looking between the gap of the office building and building across the street at the dome of the capitol building, which is arguably the best looking capitol in the nation. Access is easy either through the East End via Greenbrier St or Leon Sullivan Way off of I-64/77. All in all, APP is a very good single A park
222 Leon Sullivan Way
Charleston, WV 25301
222 Capitol St
Charleston, WV 25301
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