On the Road: Singing, Shouting, Shelled and Shot Off 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).

Welcome to the second installment of this Bluefield Blue Jays blog series, which is part of my larger Appalachian League blog series, which is part of my larger “On the Road” series. Everything is connected.

As the previous post ended, the evening’s ballgame between the Blue Jays and visiting Kingsport Mets was set to commence.

Shortly after the game began, I visited ultra-vocal Bluefield superfan Henry “Double Out” Belcher. I had interviewed Henry prior to the ballgame, but now I wanted to see him in action. Henry did not disappoint. This was one of my most widely-viewed Vine posts of the season, and almost certainly the one I have watched the most times.

I misidentified Henry as “Double Loud” Belcher in the above tweet (as opposed to “Double Out”). But you can see why such a mistake would have been made. He is (more than) twice as loud as any other fan in the vicinity.

I also spent some time speaking with Bluefield baseball mainstay George McGonagle, who served as the team’s general manager through the 2007 season. He was named “King of Baseball” at the 2012 Winter Meetings, and currently holds the position of Bluefield’s team president. He’s a Minor League Baseball icon, and central to Bluefield’s long history of Appy League Baseball.

img_0034As nighttime crept in, the verdant scenery surrounding Bowen Field assumed a muted tone.

img_0035Kingsport reliever Kurtis Horne came on to pitch the fifth, inheriting the always-tricky bases loaded, no out situation.

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I had met Kurtis’ older brother, Kyle, and father, Rocky, earlier in the week. They traveled from Canada’s west coast to see Kurtis pitch, and were extremely invested in his performance. With this as the backdrop, I couldn’t help but root for Kurtis myself. But it wasn’t meant to be on this evening, as Kurtis allowed how three inherited runners to score and then five more of his own. He was relieved with two outs in the frame, his ERA having skyrocketed into the double digits.

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My second-hand sorrow soon gave way to first-hand ecstasy, as I participated in a between-inning “Price is Right”-style contest. Here, mascot Birdie Jay displays the item I would be attempting to discern the price of.

img_0040My discernment, aided by fan feedback, was correct. I suddenly found myself the recipient of Suddenly Salad as well as a gift card to the local Grant’s supermarket chain. (Like a modern-day Robin Hood, I redistributed my winnings in the greater Bluefield area before leaving the region.)

img_0041 My next stop was the cheap seats. But, really, all the seats are cheap in the Appy League. That is one of the circuit’s many charms.

img_1793With the game winding down, general manager Jeff Gray and I paid a visit to the clubhouse. As mentioned in the previous post, the decorative skills of manager Dennis Holmberg make this a particularly unique environment.

img_1794The walls are lined with flags representing the myriad countries from which Holmberg’s charges have hailed.

img_1796
img_1797Still other walls are adorned with movie posters signed by members of each season’s team, as well as pop culture-referencing oddities such as this.

img_1801This display commemorates Holmberg’s most impressive accomplishment during his previous managerial stint, with the Auburn Doubledays.

img_1802From the clubhouse, Jeff and I made our way out of the ballpark. The postgame fireworks show was about to begin, and I had been invited to join the pyro crew.

img_0048

img_0049I wish I had more to write about the experience, but it all happened so fast and safety gloves precluded note-taking. What I can say is that everyone was very friendly and welcoming (particularly the woman in the first photo, who I believe was named Susan), and that it was was exhilarating and terrifying to be tasked with lighting a fuse. I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of fireworks shows over the last decade and it was a nice change of pace to experience it from the “inside.”

Never had I experienced fireworks so intimately and intensely.

I am now the proud owner of a “Pyro Crew” t-shirt.

img_5829Once the smoke had cleared…
img_1809…the lights went back on, revealing a field strewn with pyro detritus.

img_1811The Blue Jays would be on the road the next day, so clean-up wasn’t an immediate concern. What was a more immediate concern, however, is that I hadn’t yet written and disseminated my Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day.

In the Blue Jays’ office, Jeff turned to the internet for inspiration.

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just-one-liners.com

But it was no use. This was a battle that I knew I would have to face by myself, so I went to the parking lot and meditated until, finally, the following joke emerged from the darkness.

Goodnight, Bluefield.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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