West Virginia Black Bears fans would have enjoyed the look on Hunter Owen’s face when he arrived at Monongalia County Ballpark for the first time last June.
The Indiana State baseball star had just signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as their
25th-round draft pick and was eager to begin his pro career.
He was also a tad uneasy about heading off to a state he had little familiarity with to play in a facility he knew nothing about.
But when he hopped out of the Black Bears’ van behind the stadium and looked around at his new baseball home, he nearly fell over.
“It was a huge surprise,” he said, breaking into a smile.
Short-season rookie league stadiums aren’t supposed to be this nice, he thought.
He assumed he’d be playing in some dump with 50 people in the stands. Instead, he wound up in a beautiful stadium whose seats were filled most nights.
“I’ve talked to the guys a lot about it,” said Owen, who now plays in Charleston with the West Virginia Power, of the
Class A South Atlantic League.
“For the first year of pro ball, we got spoiled. We absolutely got spoiled. We had an unbelievable amount of fans. We played at a nice facility.”
He had another pleasant surprise waiting for him after the season. The Pirates sent him to Bradenton, Fla., to participate intheir Instructional League, at their Pirate City training complex.
That’s a month-long proposition where the team’s coaches and instructors work with the organization’s top prospects. The players reside in the dorm at Pirate City. If this dorm were part of a hotel chain, it would be a Ritz Carlton.
“Showing up and having the nicest facilities and being taken care of like we are is a blessing,” he said.
Owen felt good overall about his professional baptism in Morgantown. Owen, who played mainly in the outfield, hit .257, with five home runs and 34 RBIs in 52 games.
Like most of the new draft picks, he worked through his share of struggles that led him to ponder his future in the game. At times, he put immense pressure on himself to perform.
Over the phone, his father and brother urged him to believe in himself and recognize that the Pirates picked him because they believed in him.
Owen tried to remember that advice this year. He got off to a wretched start with the Power as he transitioned from the outfield to third base, but he’s come on over the last month, particularly at the plate. Owen is batting .294, with four home runs and
19 RBIs, in 46 games.
“At the plate, I’ve become a more mature hitter, and I’m swinging at pitches that I want to as opposed to last year, where I kind of swung at anything that was straight and in the zone,” he said. “I think I’ve come a long way this past year. I’m excited to keep growing as a player.”
As he advances toward Pittsburgh, Owen vows not to forget the summer in Morgantown that launched his pro career.
“We were very fortunate to be picked by an organization that cares for us so much and helps us out in every way that they can,” he said.