Charleston Dirty Birds bring in the heavy hitters for the 2024 season

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “If you’re not having fun, I don’t think you’re going to play well. You have to have fun out here. It’s a game that we all love. The fans come here for entertainment, so you have to give them that.”

That’s what new Charleston Dirty Birds Manager P.J. Phillips said while speaking with reporters on Thursday, as part of the team’s annual “Media Day.” Phillips, who spent six years as a middle-infielder in the minor leagues, was announced as the team’s new manager last November. Since his retirement from active play, Phillips has spent the last six years as a manager, winning two independent league championships. 

“I’m excited to be here – very happy,” Phillips said. “This place has great fans, and a great community. Myself and the players are trying to reach out and be a positive within the community. The two main goals I have here are to win the championship, and to help the team move forward to higher levels.”

Before introducing Phillips Thursday, team owner Andy Shea called his new manager “a champion,’ adding that he has both experience and integrity.

“The decision was very easy,” Shea noted, adding that he is “so pumped” to introduce Phillips as the club’s manager. “[Phillips is] someone who I’ve known since 2020. He is the manager of the first team (Lexington) that won the championship the first year the organization was in the Atlantic League, and he is the first and only black manager to win the championship in the Atlantic League.”

Also present to address reporters was GoMart Ballpark General Manager Ben Blum, first baseman Keon Barnum, and new Media Relations Manager and play-by-play broadcaster Jill Gearin. Gearin, who also serves as manager of community engagement, is the first female broadcaster in Charleston baseball history.

“The two big (community programs) that we started this year are ‘Books with the Birds,’ and our ‘Dirty Birds in Training,” Gearin said. “‘Books with the Birds’ is our new reading program that we have started. We are partnering with six specific schools in the State of West Virginia. With that, all kids have to do is read to get some free  tickets to a game. If they read four times for 30 minutes, they fill out a bookmark and bring that to our ticket office, and they will receive four free tickets to a game in April or May on any Sunday.”

Gearin added that while they are “starting off small with only six schools,” the team hopes to expand the program to include additional schools headed into the summer. 

“Our ‘Dirty Birds in Training’ is where we partner with 12 Little Leagues,” Gearin continued. “We donated over $75,000 to the leagues to help with uniforms, fields, benches – anything that they need, we were here to help with.”

“We’re also allowing them to have a ticketing-fundraiser here,” Gearin noted. “We have a ‘little league takeover.’ Every little league has a specific day this season that they will be able to sell 1,000 tickets to the game and receive all of that money.”

Gearin further noted that in addition to keeping the proceeds from ticket sales, little league players will have the opportunity to play on the field at GoMart Ballpark, and meet Dirty Birds players. 

Ballpark General Manager Ben Blum then provided reporters with a brief overview of several “fantastic new things coming this year” to GoMart Ballpark. 

“We’ve invested in a state-of-the-art sound system that they’re installing right now,” Blum explained. “We’ve got our Kids Zone set up, it’s right over where the old smoking section used to be. There’s inflatables for kids to jump on, and bounce houses, and all kinds of things for their entertainment.”

Blum noted that the Kids Zone is sponsored by Quantum Sports, and the “GoMart Gran-N-Go” food station has been expanded to include more menu items.

“And way over here in left field, we’re putting in a mini golf,” Blum added. “That’s (sponsored) by Pepsi. The mini golf will be nine holes of family-friendly entertainment. Our goal is to ensure that our customers, when they come, are focused purely on enjoying their time and being safe.”

According to Blum, the team has also partnered with West Virginia Grown to provide hamburgers and hot dogs for the upcoming season. 

Last to address reporters was new acquisition and former Independent Baseball Player of the Year  Ken Barnum, whose decision to join the Dirty Birds had quite a bit to do with P.J. Phillips. 

“Me and P.J. have been connected for a while,” Barnum said. “I love playing for P.J. He’s my favorite manager that I’ve ever played for, so I had to come here.” 

According to Shea, Barnum became “a bit of a folk legend” locally, after hitting a homerun at GoMart Ballpark, which left the stadium and carried across the street before eventually striking a third story window. 

“The ball lasted there for a good year or so,” Shea noted. “There are multiple stories as to where that ball is today.” 

The Dirty Birds’ home opener will be Thursday, April 25 against the Staten Island Ferryhawks. Game time is 6:35 p.m. On Saturday, April 20, eight Dirty Birds players will compete in a Home Run Derby at GoMart Ballpark. Dirty Birds players will be teamed with members of the community. Tickets are available. Gates for the Home Run Derby open at 5:30 p.m. 

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