Wild Things owner wants to play ball in Bridgeport, W.Va.

April 7, 2013

The owner of the Washington Wild Things says he still plans to put a Frontier League baseball team in Bridgeport, W.Va., even if it has to compete for fans with a minor-league team that is coming to Morgantown, W.Va.

Stuart Williams, managing partner of the Wild Things, said the announcement two weeks ago by the New York-Penn League that it will relocate a franchise to Morgantown in 2015 and play in a yet-to-be-built stadium hasn’t altered his plans to bring the Frontier League to Bridgeport as early next year.

“I don’t know of anything that has changed,” Williams said. “I gave my word to Bridgeport. If a stadium is built there, then we’re going to be in it. I’m not going back on my word.

“We knew, from Day 1, that there was talk that a stadium and team could happen in Morgantown. So, from that standpoint, nothing has really changed. That announcement was not a surprise to us.”

Bridgeport officials did not return requests for comment in time for use in this story.

The Wild Things’ ownership group announced in March of last year that it had entered into an agreement with developer Genesis Partners to bring a Frontier League team to the 1,700-acre Charles Pointe Master Planned Community near Interstate 79. Bridgeport is only 30 miles south of Morgantown, where the New York-Penn League team would share a stadium with West Virginia University’s baseball team.

Neither Morgantown nor Bridgeport has secured funding for its stadium. Williams said negotiations are ongoing in Bridgeport, where the stadium is estimated to cost about $10 million. Funding is expected to be a combination of private and public dollars.

In Morgantown, Monongalia County recently approved a tax-increment financing (TIF) plan to help support construction of the stadium, which has been estimated to cost between $16 million and $18 million. The plan has passed the state Senate but still needs approval from the House of Delegates and governor.

“Morgantown has the same issues statewide with monies that Bridgeport has,” Williams said.

Is it wise for West Virginia to publicly fund two ballparks located so close together? And can the area support two minor-league baseball teams?

“To have two stadiums that close together … that’s for them to decide,” Williams said. “Yes, it’s probably better if someone stepped down. Obviously, Morgantown has some things going for it. They have the power of West Virginia University, which is not to be underestimated. But I am not afraid of competition. It is my belief that the Frontier League model sells better. It attracts a loyal fanbase. I know that we can make the Frontier League work in Bridgeport.”

Morgantown has a summer population of 30,000. Bridgeport’s population is less than 9,000.

The New York-Penn League franchise will be affiliated with Major League Baseball. It will serve as a Class A short-season farm club for a yet-to-be-determined team. The Frontier League is an independent league, which means its rosters are stocked with undrafted former college players or recently released minor leaguers. Many Frontier League players are former New York-Penn League players.

“I don’t know what it takes to sustain an affiliated minor-league team because I’ve never owned one,” Williams said. “The model is different than what you have in the Frontier League. The affiliated club is designed to help the major-league club in player development. It has financial help from the parent club, in terms of paying salaries of the coaches and things like that. I’m not discrediting that it could work in Morgantown. I just think a Frontier League team can be successful in Bridgeport.”

The Frontier League’s plan was for the Bridgeport franchise to begin play in 2014. For that to happen, stadium construction must begin soon. Williams knows the project’s timetable is in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“I would say that it’s not too late, but it’s getting there,” Williams said. “I think it would be great for Washington to have two Frontier League franchises that close together.”

Chris Dugan has been covering local sports for more than 30 years and has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1986. He was named sports editor in 2006. Before joining the O-R, he was sports editor at the Democrat-Messenger in Waynesburg. He is a former member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. If you have an idea for a story, send him an email at dugan@observer-reporter.com.

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