PARKERSBURG -Nearly two decades have passed since Steve Swisher managed in the Frontier League and on Tuesday night at the Blennerhassett Hotel, he took on a new role of trying to spur interest in bringing an independent baseball team back to the region.
"We want to get as many people involved as we possibly can," said Swisher, who wore many hats while with the Ohio Valley Redcoats in the 1990s. Not only was Swisher the field manager and the team's general manager, but sometimes he was head groundskeeper when the team called Bennett Stump Field home.
"Twenty years ago when I was here, we tried to make it happen and it was tough," Swisher added. "We had a lot of great people who tried to help us, but we just couldn't get over the hump.
Photo by Jody Murphy
Steve Swisher, left, and Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee listen to questions about a proposed Frontier League franchise coming to Parkersburg during a meeting Tuesday night at the Blennerhassett Hotel.
"This meeting tonight was a good sign. This is as many people as I've seen together - people who are interested in baseball and that's the most important step."
Frontier League commissioner Bill Lee and his deputy commissioner Steve Tahlser also were among the featured guests explaining how the community, and not just Parkersburg, could benefit from having a franchise based in the Mid-Ohio Valley. The two individuals had just returned from Washington, Pa. - the site of a two-day tryout camp and draft at CONSOL Energy Park.
Lee explained how several factors played a part in why the Redcoats left the area, including a small market, facility and ownership strength. All that has changed, including the possibility of a new stadium located at Fort Boreman.
"The market has grown and the fact that it is a new facility can make this work," Lee said. "Plus a lot of people are involved this time."
Tahlser discussed the similarities Parkersburg and Marietta have in relation to an already existing franchise located in Evansville, Ind. Across the border from the Evansville Otters is a town called Henderson, Ky.
"Evansville is a good case study," Tahlser said. "That was always one of the running comments we had in the office that Henderson is like a goldmine for us that we don't know about. We went down there and networked it, and saw that the people would gladly come up to events in Evansville."
The league expanded to 14 teams last season and expects to increase that total to 16 in time for the 2014 season. An agreement already has been made to create a team and facilities in Bridgeport, W.Va.
A team located in Parkersburg would give the league a four-team division including Bridgeport, Washington (Washington Wild Things) and Avon, Ohio (Lake Erie Crushers).
Since the last time a Frontier League franchise was based in Parkersburg, not only has overall attendance dramatically increased to more than 1.4 million in 2011, but players are staying with their respective teams longer. Years ago, rules prohibited players from spending more than one to two years in the league.
"The Frontier League is the last step for a lot of these kids," said Swisher. "This is a dream come true for some of them and for some this is their last chance, so they are trying to do everything they can to keep that hope and dream alive. Once they have to step away, that's tough."