MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Despite having grown up playing baseball in Morgantown, Caleb Taylor had only ever played in Monongalia County Ballpark a couple of times prior to Monday. That will change this summer because Taylor can now call Mon County Ballpark his home as a member of the West Virginia Black Bears.
“I found out last week,” Taylor said Monday. “It’s pretty cool, I was shocked. I thought I’d know earlier but now that I’m on the team it’s pretty cool.”
The Black Bears are one of six teams playing in the newly-formed MLB Draft League. The league will feature draft-eligible high school seniors and college players like Taylor. Monday was the League’s Opening Day as West Virginia played host to the visiting Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The Scrappers won 8-1, but playing at Mon County Ballpark was still a special moment for Taylor.
“I’ve only played here two or three times,” Taylor said. “We played here on the 4th of July for legion and it was pretty packed here. Other than that, being inside here it’s probably only my second time.”
Taylor started as the team’s designated hitter and batted fifth. He finished 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts. With a new league, the Black Bears also have a new manager this season, someone who knows all about what it is like to play for his hometown team.
“That was pretty cool for Caleb, getting to play in front of some family and friends,” said West Virginia manager Jedd Gyorko.
Gyorko, a University High School and WVU graduate, made his managerial debut Monday night after playing in the major leagues each of the last eight years.
“Same for me, it was my first time managing and I had some family there. It’s cool just to be able to be here in Morgantown and kind of give back and get back to where it all started.”
While playing for the Black Bears is a return home for Taylor, he has not exactly been that far away, playing the last two years at Potomac State College a few hours east in Keyser, WV. Taylor played a little in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and broke out this year, hitting .414 in 43 games. He led the Catamounts with 62 RBI and finished second on the team with nine home runs and 14 doubles.
“They have a really good program there,” Taylor said. “[Assistant coach Don Schafer] and [head coach Doug] Little, they know how to coach and they get it done.”
Potomac State went 35-8 this year, wrapping up the season earlier this month on May 8. While the Draft League’s main draw is increased exposure to MLB scouts and a chance for players to raise their draft profiles, Taylor said he is keeping his goals simple this summer.
“[My goal is] obviously just to get better,” Taylor said. “It’ll give me a chance to make myself a better hitter and catching these guys also makes me a better catcher.”
After just one day of practice on Sunday and the first game of the season on Monday, Taylor said he can already tell the competition level is higher than anything he has seen before.
“Seeing these guys who are coming from Florida and places like that where competition is a little better, you can definitely tell.”
The Black Bears are scheduled to play 68 games this season, 34 at home in Mon County Ballpark, giving Taylor plenty of chances to play for his hometown crowd.