On the Road: State Lines and Sight Lines in Bluefield

To see all posts from my July 1 visit to the Bluefield Blue Jays, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

The Bluefield Blue Jays play at Bowen Field. I drove to Bowen Field from my hotel in Bluefield, West Virginia. Along the way I passed a “Welcome to Virginia” sign, a “Welcome to West Virginia” sign and, finally, a sign welcoming me to “Bluefield, Virginia.” By the time I arrived at the ballpark I was in a state, all right. A state of confusion!

img_0002Bowen Field is in Virginia, as it turns out. But it’s located within a public park encompassing both states, and this park is operated by the city of Bluefield, West Virginia. So, as with many things in life: It’s complicated.

My initial reaction to Bowen Field was a simple one, however: I love this place. It’s an appealingly rustic throwback, surrounded by natural beauty.

img_0003Prior to the game I went on a little walking tour with Blue Jays general manager Jeff Gray. Along the way we met some interesting people. Vlad, Jr., on the right, is all of 17 years old. Jesus Severino, who turned 19 just before the Appy League season began, is an old man in comparison.

Dennis Holmberg, the Blue Jays manager, is a baseball lifer. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1969 and, embarked on a coaching career immediately upon retiring as a player in 1977. 2016 marked his fifth in Bluefield, and in that time he has really put his personal stamp on the place. His office, and the clubhouses, are adorned with dozens of photos, flags, souvenirs, memorabilia, tchotkes and ephemera. It’s a like a MAD magazine drawing come to life, the professional baseball equivalent of the cover of Weird Al’s eponymous debutI’ll return to the land of Holmberg — Holmbergia? — in the next post.

img_0006It was now approximately 30 minutes before game time, and the grandstand seats were slowly filling in.

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Bowen Field dates back to 1939, but the original structure was largely destroyed by fire in 1975 (I was told by one fan that the fire was set by fans in nearby Princeton, who were “upset that they didn’t have a team.”) The orange seats are cast-offs from the Angels’ Anaheim Stadium.

This plaque commemorates the opening of the “new” Bowen Field in 1975. The “highly successful” relationship with Baltimore ended up running through the 2010 season, at which point it was the longest continuous affiliation in Minor League Baseball. After Baltimore decided to forgo having an Appy League team, the Blue Jays swooped. Bowen Field remains with the birds.

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On this evening, the visitor’s dugout would be occupied by the Kingsport Mets.

img_0010The view from the grandstand:

img_0013While in the stands I interviewed Bluefield super-fan Henry “Double Out” Belcher. He had arrived for this seven o’clock game early in the afternoon, simply because there’s no place he’d rather be.

img_0015My story on Henry can be found HERE. Click on the link to learn why he’s “the loudest man in Bluefield.” We’ll see him again in the next post.

Further wanderings led me to Kyle and Rocky Horne, the older brother and father of Kingsport pitcher Kurtis Horne. I had met Rocky and Kyle the previous week in Kingsport, writing an article about how they made the long trip from the west coast of Canada to watch him pitch.

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I think I might have thrown out a first pitch prior to the ballgame, but a couple of months have passed and my brain is addled and I cannot say for certain. At any rate, I was on the field just prior to the start of the game.

As is customary, the players were accompanied to their positions by local youth.

img_0020Patriotic rituals were then duly observed. 
img_1785There is still more to come from Bluefield, but I’ll cover that in the next post. Like the morning sun said to the grass, “I now bid you ‘a dew.'”

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

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