GRANVILLE — On Aug. 19, West Virginia Black Bears outfielder Travis Swaggerty will celebrate his 21st birthday. He plans to commemorate the milestone like a native West Virginian — with real Appalachian moonshine.
“I haven’t had it yet, but I would like to,” he said following the team’s Thursday’s 7-4 win against State College Spikes. “I heard there are a bunch of different flavors and it’s pretty enjoyable.”
Moonshine has long stood as a hallmark in West Virginia, with the Mountain State bearing a long, proud tradition of brewing the alcoholic beverage. When emigrating to the U.S. in the mid-18th centuries, Scotch-Irish and English settlers brought distilling ingredients and whiskey recipes to the Appalachians. West Virginian field corn and creek water proved a good mix for the beverage, and was often sold at a higher price than the corn used to make it.
The Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s and Prohibition of the early 1900s further ingrained the culture of illegal moonshine production in the region. Moonshines place in Mountain State history soon became cemented, and can still be seen today. In fact, “Moonshiners” finished as the runner-up when voting was held to determine the mascot for the Black Bears.
This week, as an homage to West Virginia history and culture. the organization bore the name Moonshiners on alternative jerseys during their home series with the Spikes.
“After the contest, we started developing the idea of using the Moonshiners name and looking into the history of moonshine in West Virginia and tying it all together,” Black Bears assistant general manager Jackie Riggleman said.
As the Moonshiners, the team donned copper-and-black jerseys — the copper symbolizing the color of moonshine stills and the black symbolizing the color of cars that bootleggers would use to transport the then-illegal product.
“As a born and raised West Virginian, it means a lot to showcase our history in this unique way. In the end, it created a pretty cool atmosphere,” Riggleman said.
In addition to honoring such an integral part of West Virginia culture, the experience allowed the organization to share the importance of moonshine both economically and socially within the state.
“It’s a cool canvas to show how West Virginia contributed to our economy, and how it was and still is a big part of our history and culture,” Riggleman said.
“It’s been rewarding to provide that history and that knowledge to our fans that were here this week. We had a group in from Canada today. They absolutely loved it.”
For members of the roster, the series provided a chance to pay respect to and show pride for their home amongst the hills.
“Everyone seems to be big fans and to truly enjoy the game in this state. Everyone is into it; you can definitely feel everyone pulling for us,” Black Bears infielder Zack Kone said. “I’ve had a great experience so far in West Virginia. It’s really nice to have a chance to represent the state in this way.
For Swaggerty — a world away from his native Cajun home on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain — West Virginia has provided him a passionate group of baseball fans and a second family in the Black Bears. In his mind, this series was a chance to thank the state for the experience — even the parts he doesn’t quite enjoy that much.
“It’s different, being from south Louisiana. All these hills — I get a little car sick every time I ride around here,” Swaggerty said half-jokingly. “But it’s definitely been super cool. This fan base is amazing, and the team is like a family. With moonshining having such a rich history here, it’s just really cool to do this.”
The Moonshiners (12-21), which will return as the Black Bears today, will travel to Williamsport for a 7 p.m. first pitch.