Skip to main content

As the West Virginia Black Bears step up to the plate to defend their 2022 MLB Draft League championship title, a highly competitive team and a committed crowd have the bases loaded and primed for another homerun season. REG sat down with General Manager Leighann Sainato who is midway through her second year at the helm of her hometown team to hear what she thinks about living and working in Morgantown, leadership, baseball, fans, food and so much more!

Leighann was raised in Morgantown, WV, where she earned not one but four degrees from West Virginia University, including a law degree and a Master of Science in Sports Management. When the opportunity arose to launch her career with a dynamic sports team in her hometown, Leighann didn’t think twice. Six years later, Leighann says the local community has generated a growing and passionate fan base that has embraced the team, and she’s guiding her front office team to continue providing exceptional fan experiences on and off the field to keep the momentum going.

“We want to invest as much in our fans as they invest in us. We work hard to nurture our relationship with the community,” said Leighann. “We’re always trying to make the experience better for our fans, so we are listening and implementing ideas and promotions where possible based on the feedback we get from the community.”

The Black Bears staff have a series of free community events planned throughout the summer and off-season to keep the team and the fans engaged, and to thank people for continuing to show up for games.

Leighann says the talent and competition on field have grown tremendously since the Black Bears joined five other teams in Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Draft League, which formed in 2021 and operates in an 80-game split-season format. Leading into the MLB’s annual summer draft, the Draft League serves as a showcase for top draft-eligible prospects. After the draft, players who no longer have amateur eligibility are paid to play the remaining 50 games.

“Since joining the Draft League, the talent and competition on the field has continuously improved,” said Leighann. “We now have a roster of mainly Division 1 athletes and high-level prospects, and it’s been exciting to watch that progression. Now that we’re not affiliated, we are able to root for a lot of different teams because we have former Black Bears playing as high as AAA.”

Leighann joined the Black Bears in 2017, just two years after the club’s inaugural season, as a community relations assistant. Her vast knowledge, ambition and hardworking nature saw her quickly promoted to the ticket office before earning the role of public relations manager. In 2022, Leighann was named General Manager. Leighann is the first female GM in the Draft League and in the history of Rich Baseball Operations, and while she doesn’t pay much attention to the notion of being the first, she most definitely does not want to be the last.

Here are some other highlights from our conversation with Leighann:

What do you love about your job?

I love baseball – I love the sport itself, and I love the business side of the game. Work is a big part of my life and I’m not one to sit somewhere quietly, I need to keep moving and sports is the perfect industry for that. It’s constantly changing, there are always new challenges, and every day is different.

I’m very task and goal oriented. When I accepted the General Manager position, I told myself that whether I was here for four years or forty years, I was going to make a positive impact and I was going to leave the organization in a better state than I found it. That’s what I keep in mind each day, that’s what drives me.

What does it mean to you to be able to work in your hometown of Morgantown?

I always told myself that if I were ever in a position to be able to affect positive change in my community, I was going to take it. I know Morgantown’s strengths, and its weaknesses, and if I can help have any kind of positive impact on a place that I raise my son and have my family, I want to do that.

What do you like most about living in Morgantown, West Virginia?

Morgantown as the quintessential college town. It has a small town feel while being close to major hubs like Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The town is continuously growing as newcomers discover the benefits of living in a small town surrounded by the wonders of nature. I love living in the state of West Virginia; it’s just very pretty. I love being able to get outdoors and go hiking and see all the mountains. But aside from the natural beauty, it’s the people that I love most about Morgantown. The fans here are some of the best that you will find across the country. If they care about you, and if they think you care about them, they will be a fan for life.

Who have been some of the leaders you’ve admired in your life and what did you learn from them that you bring to this job?

My mother has always been my role model. In fact, I wrote my college entrance essay about my mom. She was a principal and an educator for 40 years. And much like many of my other mentors, such as Mike Buczkowski (President of Rich Baseball Operations), my mother led in a way that was very structured but never mean. They operate with empathy and patience. I admire their ability to balance both the business and human aspect of the job. Those are characteristics I strive to emulate. In my role, I try to lead by example. I never ask anyone to do something that I’m not prepared to do myself.

We have a young staff and the smallest front office in all Rich Baseball Operations. I try to remind myself of those two things: we’re getting a lot accomplished with very few people, and most of those people are in the early stages of their careers, still learning and forming as people. It’s a very high energy, collaborative work environment here.

If you’re not at the ballpark, where will we find you?

If I’m not at home or the ballpark, I’m either enjoying the outdoors on Cheat Lake or enjoying a local restaurant. I love the Detroit-style pizza and fantastic wings at Lefty’s Place, and what I describe as Appalachian hippie burritos from Black Bear Burritos – they have the best tofu I have had anywhere.