Black Bears, Local Sports, Sports

Black Bears open 2024 season vs. Frederick as back-to-back Draft League champions

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia Black Bears are kicking off the season tonight at home against the Frederick Keys at 7 p.m. The teams are playing a three-game series with all three games at Kendrick Family Ballpark.

Returning for his second season as manager is David Carpenter, a local from Fairmont. Carpenter spent 14 years playing professionally after being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 12th round of the 2006 MLB draft. 

“I was nervous driving up here to meet the guys for the first time (on Saturday),” Carpenter said. “The day you stop having butterflies and stop being nervous is the day you need to walk away from it.”

The former Mountaineer catcher made his transition to pitcher after two seasons with the Cardinals organization, and he made his major league debut in 2011 for the Houston Astros. Over the course of his career, Carpenter took the mound for the Astros, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, and Washington Nationals. His final season in the majors was 2019.

The Black Bears have now claimed back-to-back league titles, receiving the 2022 and 2023 MLB Draft League championships. The team went 46-27 in regular season play last year and 31-16 in the second half of the season.

“Getting everyone here to see what type of talent we have this year, trying to put guys in the best position possible to be able to showcase that is something we focus on for the players.” Carpenter said.  

In the first half of the Draft League season, teams will play 35 games with amateur, draft-eligible players from the Division I-III, NAIA and junior college levels and high school graduating seniors. For the second half of the season they play 45 games, these games are for professional players who have exhausted their amateur eligibility. Players receive housing, meal money, travel and weekly compensation.

“The goal for the first half is to get as many guys (playing time) as you can,” Carpenter said “Obviously high school hitters are different, there’s guys pitching in the upper 90’s and hitting 100 and that’s something that can be overwhelming at times for high school hitters, the guys are very quick to adjust.”

With the success of the team since the league started in 2021, there have been many players who were drafted into MLB. In the 2023 season, there were five players who were drafted from the Black Bears. 

“There’s a lot to learn from last year, getting the opportunity to be with a really good staff,” Carpenter said. “It was a blast for me to learn not only how to go about managing game strategy but also just managing people.” 

Infielder Devin Saltiban was selected 98th overall to the Philadelphia Phillies, pitcher Carlson Reed, who played at WVU, was selected 104th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates, pitcher Zach Thornton was selected 159th overall by the New York Mets, outfielder Braden Barry, who also played for the Mountaineers, was selected 244th overall to the Toronto Blue Jays and infielder Jeron Williams was selected 284th overall by the Houston Astros. 

Following their series against the Keys, the Black Bears will play three games at State College beginning on Friday.