For several decades, frozen food magnate Robert Rich, Jr., owned two minor league teams in New York state: the AAA Buffalo Bison, and the Short-Season A Jamestown Jammers. At the end of the 2014 baseball season, word came down that the Jammers, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, would be moving to Morgantown, WV, after 20 years in Western New York. Now only an hour and a half from their parent club, the newly minted West Virginia Black Bears remain in the New York-Penn League. Over the 2014-15 winter, the brand-new, 2,500-seat Monongalia County Ballpark rose up to service the Black Bears, as well as the West Virginia University Mountaineers, who broke in the stadium with their 2015 Spring baseball campaign.
Judging any brand-new stadium is not quite fair, but even as it now stands, Monongalia County Ballpark is a solid (but not exceptional) entry all-around at a good value, with some unique features that may develop into detriments or benefits to the stadium experience.
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The food and drink choices at the park certainly cover the basics with a little local flair, but they currently aren't anything exceptional. There are two main concession stands on the promenade at the top of first and third base, as well as some subsidiary food and drink stands out near the right field Premier Party Deck and a beer-only concession on the center field walkway by the Gate A entrance.
Your basic ballpark food groups of hot dogs ($4), burgers (with fries $8), and chicken fingers and sandwiches (both with fries, $9 and $8 respectively) are covered. Your newer ballpark standard of pizza ($8) is available at the third base concession, and brats ($6), pulled pork (with chips, $8), and sliders (with chips, $6) are on offer at stands on the first base promenade patio. Some local color is thrown at the main concession stands with pepperoni rolls (pepperoni and cheese in a hoagie roll for $5, and "loaded" with chili for $6) and a WV Dog (a dog with chili, kraut, and honey mustard available at the third base concession, $6). And, of course, bear claws are available (with ice cream, $6.50) along with an array of traditional ballpark snacks.
For your drinking needs, all the concessions stands serve up Budweiser, Yuengling, Miller, and Coors as domestic suds (for a ballpark-acceptable $6). This would be pretty bland, except for a local craft beer stand on the first base deck that serves $7 cups of Country Boy, Badger Brew, Du Claw, Blue Mountain Brewery, and Southern Tier brews. Craft beers are also available at the same price at some other concessions. The two main concession stands also dish out wine ($7).
You should always eat local. So grab a loaded pepperoni roll ($6) and any of the WV craft brews ($7). And if you're feeling particularly peckish, grab an endless tub of popcorn ($10) and snack to your heart's content for the entire game.
Monongalia County Ballpark is brand-new, broken in with the WVU college baseball season just before the start of the NY-Penn League schedule in June of 2015. In many ways, it is quite unconventional, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the life of the stadium.
To begin with, the park is aligned so that the home plate entrance is up against the base of a hill and used only as an exit -- all the entrances are in the outfield. There is still some landscaping going on to perhaps provide access for a home plate entrance, but it was not the case at opening.
Another hiccup is the picnic hills installed along each outfield that turned out to be too steep for fans to safely use. (These are going to be levelled off into more patio space.) The stadium dimensions are quite intimate, to the point where the front rows could likely reach out to touch the on-deck batters. But it comes at a price of netting in front of the entire seating area--and that protection is necessary, as foul balls come flying back at impressive speeds. While being that close to the action has its appeal, it comes at the price of only getting foul ball souvenirs bounced back to the seats off the stadium facade, and the minor league tradition of throwing the last out of the inning to the crowd is impeded by the net. Whether the proximity to the action is worth the loss of interaction shall be seen.
Also, the field is nearly entirely artificial turf, with the sole exception of the pitcher's mound. While this no doubt cuts down on maintenance (the grounds crew just has to fix up the mound before the start of a game), it clearly affects the play in adverse weather as players skid around, and the turf can't be great for the younger players who man these short-season teams. The static stadium seats are oddly bolted onto bleachers, but there is enough space so walking in the rows isn't a hassle, and the seats themselves aren't uncomfortable.
The video scoreboard in left-center keeps fans up-to-date on the action, and it is located near a unique hump in the outfield wall where the ticket booth building leans against the wall. A stand of trees provide the batter's eye, and the park looks out across the Monongahela River towards a pleasing vista of the WVU campus and the mountains in the distance.
Not surprisingly, the Black Bears mascot is Cooper, the black bear (named for Coopers Rock State Forest). He and a small entertainment team host the between-inning activities that runs the standard minor league gamut of contests, races, and games, with local touches such as a "Bear Hug" cam instead of a "Kiss Cam." West Virginia music icon John Denver makes an appearance during the seventh inning stretch with "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," which the crowd takes up in earnest.
Given the intimate confines of the park, nearly every seat is a good one -- unless you want to take pictures without a net. Then you are banished to shooting the backs of the players on the Premier Party Deck or on the walkway up from Gate A. And outside of the luxury boxes, there's nowhere to go to get out of the sun or rain in your seat. If you can, get a seat close to the sides of the dugout, which is your best bet for autographs and souvenirs.
Morgantown is never going to be mistaken for the big city, but it is home to West Virginia University, which dominates most of the activity in Morgantown during the regular school year, though much less so during the summer baseball months.
As a college town, low-end and chain grub are plentiful, especially around the main campus, but Morgantown manages to have some culinary variety. Cheap student eats are elevated to something more at Black Bear Burritos, a favorite that slings burritos and beer to the delight of town and gown alike, as well as Tailpipes, a diner-like burger joint that is a mainstay of the main drag. More upscale dining is available at Ogawa (Japanese/Korean) and Puglioni's (Italian) in the main campus area, and Oliverio's (Italian), Table 9 (gastropub), and Regatta (American) down by the river. Student-heavy low-end bars and clubs are plentiful on the main street of town, but Mountain State Brewing Co and the Morgantown Brewing Company are more than a step above student dive bars.
Most of the WVU facilities are idle (or at least in low gear) during the summer baseball season, but they are still available to visit. As with many college towns, a small arts community is present downtown, with some galleries and summer theater. For those with families, the Children's Discovery Museum of West Virginia is just down the road on 119. But outdoors activities are where the area shines, and even non-rugged out-of-doors fun can be had at the Core Arboretum and nearby West Virginia Botanic Garden. The allures of urban life are available an hour and a half to the north in Pittsburgh, and baseball travelers will find teams close by there as well as Washington, PA (about an hour to the north).
The Fairfield Inn & Suites is within walking distance just up the road from the park, and straight across the river on 19/7 are a Best Western, Econo Lodge, and Hotel M, all serving the WVU Coliseum in-season. To the southwest of the river are an Econo Lodge and Microtel Inn, while on the downtown side of the river, the more upscale Waterfront Place Hotel, Clarion Hotel Morgan, and Chestnut Hotel hang their shingles.
The Black Bears reap the benefits and face the challenges of a new franchise. Energy and interest is at its peak, as the first professional team in the region is spurring a great deal of excitement from the municipality, but there is also a lack of traditions and history that can only be built up over time, as well as the uncertainty of whether that interest will persevere when the novelty wears off.
Even with foul weather to start the season, the Black Bears have had no problems filling the stadium to beyond capacity. The traveling die-hards of visiting fans even make their presence felt along the third base visiting dugout.
The fans are loud and quite into their new local pride and joy, and they seem to pay attention as much to the game as the fan favorite contests between innings. The Black Bears are too new to have any traditions of their own, but a good number of WVU fan activities (such as John Denver songs) seem to be making the move over to the ballpark, and the university colors seemed as prevalent in the stands as the new Black Bears kit.
Monongalia County Stadium is conveniently located just off I-79, the main interstate highway running through this part of the state. Located at the current end of the University Town Centre commercial complex, there is one road in and out, which links up with I-79 and state road 19, which leads downtown.
Although driving is the easiest way around, the Mountain Line Transit Authority number 11 bus ($.75) will get you from downtown to the field. Direct bus service is also available on the Grey Line ($25) to Pittsburgh. The regional Morgantown Municipal Airport is just east of downtown, but your best bet for nation-wide service is Pittsburgh International Airport, just shy of an hour and a half to the north.
The ownership threw up three new parking lots just in time for the regular season (two for general admission and one for season ticket holders), and they are a reasonable $3. If you'd rather not pay anything to park, you can get away with stopping at the Walmart or hospital center just up the road and walking down to the stadium. This was blessed by the powers-that-be during the WVU baseball season, but it is unknown how long this blessing will last. With only one road in and out, it was a pleasant surprise at how easy it was to get in and out of the park.
As befitting the odd layout of the park, all three current entrances are from the outfield: Gate C (left field), Gate B (right field), and the main Gate A (center field, by the ticket booth). The traditional marquee home plate entrance is facing the base of the hill and is an exit only, though later construction may connect this up as an entrance. Entrance crowding isn't a problem, but a walk up to Gate B, furthest from the parking lots, is likely your best bet.
One growing pain that the park needs to improve upon is getting around. A main promenade runs from the top of the stairs by Gate C in right field, around to Gate A in center field (though not all the way around the park). In general, the foot traffic is fine, especially in the wide-open Premier Party Deck in right field, but the lines for the two concession stands by first and third base can completely choke off the walkway and make getting around a hassle. They also need to control admission to the Bears Den team store. It is on the small side to begin with, and when crowded with eager new fans looking to scarf up merchandise, it can get so crowded that you can't move around much, let alone shop. You get on the end of the checkout line and shop as you wind through the store.
As with most low-A ball clubs, the Black Bears are all about making a cost-efficient night of entertainment for local families. The Black Bears mostly deliver on that promise, but with nearly all tickets $10 and over, they don't quite hit it out of the park.
Fixed seating prices run in two tiers of $12 for premium seating behind the plate (sections 103-107) and $10 for reserved seats down the base lines (101-2 and 108-9). Standing room seats ($8) are also available when regular seating is sold out. All food but the bottomless popcorn is under $10, and a beer and an entree will run you under $15.
Parking is free if you want to walk and $3 if you don't, so it's all about whether you'll pay for convenience. But the full-color program was a surprisingly pricey $5, and it didn't even include a scorecard at the time of this review (June, 2015).
Seniors and kids get a dollar off the regular ticket price, and groups and season tickets get discounted seats as well. Groups of under 100 get a dollar off, while groups of 100 or more get $2 off per person. Season tickets get $3 off per ticket for premium seats and $2.50 off for reserved seats. Birthday parties are $22 per person and include cupcakes, hot dog and drink, baseball, and a reserved seat for all attendees, plus an autographed baseball for the birthday child. Rentals of one of three suites start at $600 per game.
As a brand new park, the extras of the experience will likely improve with time, but right now, the stadium lacks an official sign, let alone any extras worth mentioning. Temporary placards hold the places until permanent fixtures arrive, and there's not much history to tout for a newborn franchise. Scorecards are even on order. Landscaping is still being worked on, and will likely improve as the season goes on.
That said, the staff is friendly and helpful, and the little extras will show up as the franchise matures.
Monongalia County Ballpark is as new as the franchise it hosts, and stands as an affordable night of fun in a good new park. As time passes, we can see if some aspects of the park design are blessings or a curse, but a visit here will not be wasted.
This is really a college park with artificial turf and netting that protects all seats, which are plastic and not particularly comfortable. There are tables on the concourse that you can stand at if you want to avoid the netting, but you are quite far away. The team is building a tradition but as of now, has yet to establish much other than a pepperoni roll race. Parking is $3 but you can try to leave your car at Walmart if you wish. Will be interesting to see how this place develops over time.
Having visited in August of 2015, I came away unimpressed by this new ballpark. There are numerous design flaws and the prices are simply too high for this region and level and of play. I suspect the team feels they can gouge fans because a) they are a new team and b) because fans are used to paying high prices at the WVU football games. Sorry, but $4 for both hot dogs and water is too steep.
Regarding the ballpark itself, it just feels like it was either poorly designed or shortcuts were taken to save money. Nets block all seats and an iron fence blocks the view from all the SRO areas on the third base side. Seats are cheap plastic "bucket" style ones, some without armrests. It will be interesting to see how these hold up over time. To to it off, the field is a rug with an ugly dark brown color used for the "dirt" portions.
Other than the tasty loaded pepperoni roll they sell, there is little to like about this place. Quite a disappointment.
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