PARKERSBURG -A small but passionate group attended a Tuesday night meeting at the Parkersburg Municipal Building designed to measure support for bringing a minor league baseball franchise to the Mid-Ohio Valley.
The meeting - the third and final scheduled public session on the subject -was highlighted by:
* A slide presentation by Sam Winans, who serves as the co-chairman of the sports committee of the Wood County Development Authority.
* A vote of support from former Major League Baseball all-star Steve Swisher for the project. Swisher said he wasn't just interested in putting a team on the field, but it must be a winning one. He urged the project must be done in a first-class manner and be something about which the Mid-Ohio Valley can take pride.
* A word of caution from long-time Parkersburg resident Eugene DiClemente, who questioned the proposed use of tax increment financing for the Fort Boreman site that keeps getting prominently mentioned by project supporters. DiClemente called for transparency regarding the project and asked who would be responsible for payments on a proposed baseball stadium. He made it clear he wanted the project to proceed, but questioned the manner in which it was being proposed.
Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, who attended all three public meetings, told DiClemente the purpose of those meetings was transparency. He told DiClemente his information was "not correct.''
Winans once again explained that the Frontier League, a member of the Independent Professional Baseball Association, is interested in expanding from its 14 existing franchises to a 16-team league. It has targeted two West Virginia locations -Parkersburg and Bridgeport. The league would like to expand for the 2014 season. Winans noted that Parkersburg previously was a member of the Frontier League when the Ohio Valley Redcoats called Bennett Stump Field in the Parkersburg City Park their home from 1993 to 1998.
Winans noted that Bennett Stump Field, while a fine high school facility, is not suited for minor league baseball due to the lack of dressing and shower facilities as well as its location inside the City Park prohibits the sale of beer, a financial necessity.
Winans said Parkersburg has been contacted by groups interested in being involved in the construction of a stadium. including the Billy Ripken Group, which designs stadiums. Ripken is the less famous brother of the legendary Cal Ripken Jr.
Ohio Valley University baseball coach Bob Crawford was on hand to learn about the project and said it would benefit his program. He noted that the West Virginia Conference softball tournament has found a home in Vienna and that he saw no reason why OVU's new conference, the GMAC, wouldn't be interested in conducting its baseball tournament here.
Winans said the next step in the project is to conduct a feasibility study.