MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It’s not every day a college baseball team gets to play in one of the finest ballparks in America, but it will happen Wednesday night when West Virginia faces Penn State at beautiful PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
And it took just a couple of phone calls to pull it off.
Matt Wells, West Virginia’s senior associate athletic director in charge of external affairs, said earlier this week that he’d had some preliminary conversations with West Virginia University baseball coach Randy Mazey about playing at PNC Park.
Mazey was interested in taking his Mountaineer baseball team to PNC Park to play a game, if it made sense and the Pirates were willing to make it happen.
Then, when West Virginia’s scheduled game at Penn State’s Lubrano Park on Wednesday, March 22 was cancelled because of poor weather, the wheels were set in motion to see if it made sense to move the game to Pittsburgh.
The Steel City is reasonably close to both schools, and Penn State has always considered Pittsburgh an important recruiting area. West Virginia, too, has enjoyed considerable success in Western Pennsylvania in the past, so why not approach the Pirates to see if something could be worked out?
The first call was to Penn State.
“We reached out to Penn State first and once their coach (Rob Cooper) was on board, then Randy reached out to Frank Coonelly (president of the Pittsburgh Pirates),” Wells said. “Frank brought in Brian Chiera from their marketing staff and Brian, Phil Esten from Penn State and I started working on the details. Those meetings led to the announcement on Good Friday that the game had been moved from Penn State’s Lubrano Park to PNC Park.”
The only obstacle was picking a suitable date when the Pirates were on the road.
Wednesday night worked for everyone.
“This made sense operationally for the Pirates’ staff,” Wells said. “Other than that, there were no major obstacles on anyone’s part. We all went into this viewing it as a learning experience. There are really no huge expectations on anyone’s part. It’s kind of, ‘Let’s see how it goes and we will reevaluate it and hopefully we can continue to do it, if not on an annual basis, at least on a more regular basis.’”
Wednesday’s game is certainly a win-win for everybody. It’s an easy trip for West Virginia and Penn State fans to make and an opportunity for fans to watch some entertaining college baseball in one of the great sporting venues in the United States.
The game also makes sense because Penn State and West Virginia have strong alumni presences in Pittsburgh.
“More than just West Virginia baseball and Penn State baseball, this is important to local college baseball,” Wells pointed out. “Earlier this year, two Power 5 Conference programs, Kansas State from the Big 12 and Arkansas from the SEC, played in Kansas City’s Kaufman Stadium. Now you add a Big Ten team and Big 12 team playing at PNC Park. It’s good for the game of college baseball.”
Helping things is a cooperative weather forecast on Wednesday night calling for clear skies and temperatures in the low 70s at game time.
“(Advance) sales have been steady. From talking to the Pirates, they said sales have picked up within the last week,” Wells said. “They had a good week last week as we are getting closer to the game, as you’d expect when people have a chance to see the weather forecast and make their plans.”
Wells said the Pirates are handling most of the game’s operational aspects, from supplying the ticket takers and ushers to coordinating the concessions.
The Pirates will also control merchandising for the event and, through the assistance of the two schools’ trademark and licensing departments, have established a special game t-shirt that will be sold at the ballpark.
“Really, the operations for the two teams is more like an away game,” Wells said. “We’re just coordinating the logistics of the travel. What time do we arrive? Where does the bus park? Where does the team enter? Which clubhouse are we in? Do we have access to shower facilities? When is batting practice for both teams?”
Fans can enter at the Home Plate Gate located near West General Robinson Street and Mazeroski Way. It will open at 6 p.m., an hour before first pitch at 7 p.m.
West Virginia will occupy the third base dugout and Mountaineer fans are encouraged to sit in the lower section on the third base side of the stadium. Penn State will inhabit the first base dugout and Nittany Lions fans are urged to sit in the lower section on the first base side of the facility.
Parking near PNC Park will be available and is similar to a normal Pirates game.
Wells is hopeful West Virginia can continue to play games in PNC Park in the future.
“If not an annual game, at least a more regular occurrence,” he said. “This gives our student-athletes and the Penn State student-athletes an opportunity to play in a major-league park. There is a nice recruiting piece to this and it could potentially give you a boost there. When our coaches are able to go into homes and talk about recently playing in Hawaii, playing a game in PNC Park, making a run to the Big 12 championship game and now, hopefully, adding an NCAA regional to the list, it’s one more thing to sell to prospective student-athletes when our coaches are out on the recruiting trail.
“You have to be careful who the opponent is, though,” he added. “I don’t think you can do this with just anybody, and I think there is a small group of potential opponents that make the most sense.”
Penn State, of course, is one opponent that made sense.
Note: This story was updated to reflect a change in team dugout assignments.