By ANDREA LANNOM ∙ firstname.lastname@example.org
For owners of Beckley's Linda K. Epling Stadium, the only return on investment they seek is a community's happiness.
Five years ago, Douglas Epling and his wife, Linda, discussed building a baseball field in Beckley. The Eplings wanted a family-friendly facility and wanted to finance it themselves.
With the name solidified and a plan of finance in mind, the Eplings broke ground on the facility that summer.
"There was no government funding, no nothing," Douglas Epling said. "No one put any money in this except for me and my wife."
This is not the first baseball field for the Eplings, however. They also built the Flying Eagle Park at Woodrow Wilson High School and the Douglas M. Epling Field at West Virginia University Institute of Technology.
At one time, the city of Beckley had a similar plan to build a baseball field. But officials could not pull money together to make it a reality, Epling said.
"They couldn't prove it was economic development because you couldn't get a return on it," he said.
And for Epling, that's fine.
This year marked the stadium's third year of baseball. And so far, the stadium and the Eplings' team, the West Virginia Miners, have been successful.
In its first year, the team was runner up in its division in the Prospect League for college players, Epling recalled, and in the second year, the Miners played for the league championship.
"We lost in the championship round," Epling said. "It's been a very good experience. For the ball players it felt like bumps along the road, but overall, it has been terrific."
Epling said there have been nine draft picks in the past two years as well as fourth round draft picks into major league teams.
"We lost some of them within two weeks of the season," Epling said.
Part of the appeal for the field is its "pro-like atmosphere," said Dave Traube, director of marketing for the stadium.
Epling said the Miners recruit players from coast to coast, from Arizona State University to Marshall University.
But it's not just the pros who use the field.
Currently, 19 middle school teams, several universities and teams from the Northern Panhandle and Pennsylvania also use the field.
"Last year, we hosted the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament here," Epling said. "Next year, we should have it again, and there is a good chance we could have it here for good."
Traube estimates approximately 35,000 people fill the stadium every year. This season, the stadium has hosted 30 home games, which is two more than the previous season.
Epling said it all comes back to giving back to the community, which he says is the only payback he ever could desire.