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Spears excited for Marshall’s partnership with Coal Cats

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — When considering the duties within Marshall University’s athletics department, you think of overseeing competition for 16 women’s and men’s sports teams and monitoring the academic progress of hundreds of student-athletes, all while operating within NCAA rules and financial constraints.

Presently, however, an addition needs to be made in that summer baseball has become part of the department’s footprint.

Marshall Director of Athletics Christian Spears says the joint operation of the Appalachian League’s Tri-State Coal Cats along with Huntington-based Kindred Communications is a natural move that benefits both Marshall and the Huntington metro area. 

The Coal Cats opened their initial season last Tuesday at Marshall’s Jack Cook Field.

The 10-team Appalachian League is a wooden baat league affiliated with Major League Baseball that allows undergraduate college baseball players to be exposed to professional coaching while showing their talents to major league scouts. Teams are located in West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

“Having something for our community to do in June and July feels like we are doing the right thing, and we are lucky to have it so closely affiliated with Marshall,” Spears said. “They are in our venue. They are owned and operated by us and a third party that we partnered with in Kindred Communications. Their logo sheet is embedded within the Collegiate Licensing Company, which hosts both Marshall and the Coal Cats, so they use our primary colors and we earn revenue from licensees of their branding.”

Just as people attend festivals, concerts and fairs in the summer, Spears says that opening Marshall’s new baseball facility to summer activity is adding a quality of life benefit and potentially exposing the MU campus to residents of nearby communities who might not have a reason for a normal visit.

“Imagine if we’re having some fun and the weather is great, and people are there to enjoy it. It could really be a significant outcome for us, and it was all part of our plan,” Spears said. “When that facility got built, we made a commitment to try to become an economic engine to bring more people to the region. We feel like the 24 Coal Cats home games are going to do that. It can give our community something more to attach to that is still connected to Marshall in the summer. We cannot wait to see our community loving some summer baseball.”

An additional benefit to the Coal Cats’ arrival is that the roster features ties to Marshall and West Virginia University, with players from the Herd and Mountaineers’ 2024 teams on the franchise’s roster for its inaugural season.

The Mountaineers’ Spencer Barnett is part of the team, as is pitcher Andrew Callaway, who was with WVU this season but has since entered the transfer portal. Marshall infielder Jack Smith and pitcher Peyton Jackson are also Coal Cats.

Spears and his athletic department staff believe they’re following directions from Marshall President Brad Smith and various MU academic units in being a driver for jobs and tourism in Huntington.

“Our Athletic Department is an opportunity for us to welcome all people to Marshall University in a holistic sense,” Spears said. “So often, the Athletic Department maybe gets more opportunity to be exposed to the masses and occupies some of the air that should be focused on Marshall University, so we want to make sure we are always welcoming people – the eyes, the visibility – so we can promote what’s happening at Marshall, what’s happening in Huntington and what’s happening in West Virginia and in our region.

“If you see what all is going on around here, it has everything to do with the impact that Marshall University is having on our region – the new School of Business, the Cyber-Security Institute, what President Brad Smith has done in bringing people to West Virginia and the growth of the Tri-State area. That is the real story and the significant impact we have all wanted to see.”

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