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Marshall baseball: Huntington mayor eyes stadium, minor league team

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Huntington Mayor Steve Williams wouldn't say his plans for a baseball stadium in his city were in the infant stages. He wouldn't even call them the prenatal stages.

"I think it's a little dream in the corner of my eye," he said Wednesday.

But Williams is starting to beat the drum for such a facility in his city limits, one that would house not only Marshall University baseball, but a minor-league affiliate and possible championship tournaments as well.

"We absolutely need and deserve to have baseball back in Huntington," Williams said. "Any city that has an environment where they can take their families and be able to do things, they have baseball. There's absolutely no reason why we shouldn't have it."

Minor league baseball has been absent from the city since the independent Huntington Rail Kings played in there in 1998. The Marshall University baseball team played its home games this past season at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston and Epling Stadium in Beckley, venues that are about an hour drive and two-hour drive, respectively, from campus.

Williams said he met for about two and a half hours earlier this spring with West Virginia University Athletic Director Oliver Luck, who told him about Morgantown and WVU's attempts to build a baseball stadium and the Tax Incremental Financing plan (TIF) that would be used to fund it. The TIF would use future gains in taxes, be it property or sales taxes, to subsidize community improvement projects.

If successful, Williams said a baseball stadium would give the city more opportunities to host events. He looks at Indianapolis as an example of a city that developed itself to welcome major sporting events.

"We're not an Indianapolis by any means," Williams said, "but we can take that model and become a destination point for youth leagues and high school championships, and for that matter, even NCAA collegiate regional championships."

Williams knows the city won't be able to take on the project alone. Its success will depend on a partnership between the city, Marshall University and a private developer. He feels he has a great partner in Marshall Athletic Director Mike Hamrick. The two were teammates on the Marshall football team, Hamrick a linebacker and Williams a tight end, and have been friends ever since.

"One thing for sure that I'm placing faith in is that we have one person in Huntington who knows how to do these things probably better than any athletic director in the country, and that's Mike Hamrick," Williams said.

Hamrick already is guiding the athletic department through significant facility upgrades. Construction continues on the Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex and luxury suites at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. It soon will begin on the new indoor athletic facility, which will house an indoor football field and track, an academic center, space for a new hall of fame and a sports medicine translational research center.

Hamrick said he's already had conversations with Williams about a potential baseball stadium in Huntington. When Marshall finally crosses the finish line on its current projects, focus will turn toward baseball.

"When you've got the mayor on your side who feels as strongly about it as I do, that's very gratifying," he said. "That's how things get done. Again, our number one issue right now with a baseball facility, and we've discussed this on a regular basis, is land. That's something Steve and I are going to work in the future to address."

With a Huntington baseball stadium much closer to a dream than a reality, Williams said there are several wrinkles to iron out. Finding land on which to build it is top priority. Williams has ideas as to where a stadium can stand, but he needs to find a willing seller. Then there's the quest of finding a minor league team to call the stadium home.

But, Williams said, it's important now to keep the idea of a baseball stadium in the forefront of people's minds. If it stays there, his dream could move closer toward coming true.

"What I would love to be able to say at the end of four years is that we at least have a plan in place," he said.  

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.


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