As my loyal readers and twitter followers know, I spent a few days in Bluefield checking out the Bluefield Blue Jays, the Toronto team’s Rookie-Advanced affiliate in the Appalachian League. This article will serve as an introduction to the town, the ballpark and the players before getting into the loads of other content that will be coming.
For those interested in making the drive, it’s about 10 hours from Toronto, deep in the mountains. Bluefield actually straddles Virginia and West Virginia and sits at a southern corner of West Virginia and the western corner of Virginia. If you drive from Toronto, you’ll go through Buffalo, Erie, Pennsylvania and down past Pittsburgh and into West Virginia. In the summer, it makes for a very lovely drive and the backdrop for Bowen Field is a tree-covered mountain that makes it a beautiful and calming way to watch a baseball game. As you can see from the photos, the ballpark is actually nestled into the mountains near Bluefield College.
Crowds weren’t nearly as big as they were in either Lansing or Manchester, New Hampshire, but they were certainly vocal. The fans that do show up (the largest attendance for a game I was at was about 930 on the Saturday night) are loud and interested. The 2013 Bluefield Blue Jays are in first place in their division and with the outstanding talent that they’re putting on the field, the club is a strong contender for the Appy League championship (assuming the core of the team doesn’t get promoted to Vancouver before the playoffs).
It’s interesting to see a mix of Bluefield Blue Jays paraphernalia and Orioles gear. The Orioles were the Bluefield club’s major league team for a long time, although I have to say that Toronto’s team works much better with the “Bluefield” town name.
If you attend more than one game, people will recognize you and say hello, pretty much exactly what you would expect in a small town ballpark. In fact, walk around the stadium and you’ll talk to quite a few people and you might be surprised who you meet. I wound up meeting and talking to 2013 draftee Brett Barber’s grandparents (who live in Charleston, WV) as well as 2012 draftee Chase DeJong’s mom and cousins.
The actual ballpark experience is definitely a step (or three) down from what you’d expect at the Rogers Centre (or Skydome) or any other major league park. Seating is almost entirely in the behind-the-plate area and, for the most part, it is general admission, but at least there are molded seats and not the bleacher-type metal benches. The downside to the location of the seating is that most of the seats are slightly obstructed by the mesh netting that protects the crowd from foul balls. While some balls can (and do) sneak through, If you’re watching the game, you’ll be glad that you’re safe from harm. The press box is actually down the third-base line, which is unusual for any ball park (most are directly behind the plate) and Trey Wilson, radio broadcaster and media relations director for the team, told me that it makes his job much harder when discussing the location of pitches during a broadcast.
I didn’t have to pay for a ticket, but I can’t imagine that they’re particularly expensive. A lot of teenagers were around on, particularly on Saturday night with the game being a cheap place to hang out.
As far as ballpark food goes, I’m not going to go there. Soda wasn’t horribly expensive ($2 for a cup or a bottle from a vending machine) and I don’t even think they have beer there. I didn’t see any and, since my primary reason for the trip wasn’t to inspect the beer quality, I really didn’t go looking for it either. The food was very basic, although the “nachos supreme” were basically nachos with cheese (the same stuff that’s you’d get at a Jays game or a movie theatre) with chili poured over top. They weren’t bad and only cost $2.50.
The Bluefield stadium actually reminds me of the softball stadium recently renovated in the Toronto suburb of Stouffville. Bowen Field is more built up with a bigger area for concessions, but the vibe of the place — a small town feel with people who love baseball and their team — is very similar.
To be perfectly honest, if you’re looking for a major league calibre entertainment package, you’re not going to want to head to Bluefield or anywhere in the Appalachian League. If you want to see some of the best young prospects the Jays have, however, Bowen Field is the place to be. Less expensive than heading all the way down to Dunedin and the Jays’ minor league complex in the Florida State League and home to a team loaded with players with more upside, Bluefield is definitely a must for hardcore Jays fans.
Stay tuned for more about the players and interviews with some of the Bluefield baby Jays as well as Blue Jays staff who were in town evaluating players. Coming are interviews with Blue Jays Director of Minor League Operations Charlie Wilson, Minor League Field Director Doug Davis, Roving Pitching Consultant (and former Blue Jay) Paul Quantrill and Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer (and Roving Outfield/Baserunning Instructor) Tim Raines.
Yes. I said Tim Raines. I joined with local newspaper man Brian Woodson of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph to talk to Raines for over 20 minutes.
Right now, I have to decide if the audio is good enough for some of these interviews to go on the podcast, or if I’ll transcribe them for your reading pleasure.
Next up: My scouting reports for the 2013 Bluefield Blue Jays.