Tagged: Bluefield Blue Jays 2016

On the Road: A Winning Oscar Performance 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).

If you want to get some food at a Bluefield Blue Jays game — and who wouldn’t? — then this is the place to get it.

img_0012As for where to eat it, you’ve got options. One strong contender is this beer garden, which was added to the ballpark three years ago. Alcohol at Appalachian League games is, at most locales, a relatively recent phenomenon (two teams, Elizabethton and Princeton, still do not serve it).

img_0011On this pleasant Friday evening, I made the acquaintance of longtime Bluefield baseball supporter Oscar Miller. Oscar was my designated eater for the evening, tasked with consuming the ballpark cuisine that my gluten-free diet prohibits.

img_0026Oscar grew up in nearby Bramwell, West Virginia, where he played basketball as a member of his high school’s “Bramwell Millionaires” basketball team. That team is famed for its undefeated 1967 season, which marked the first campaign in which white and black players played together. Oscar told me that, the year previous, neither the all-white or all-black Millionaires team won a game.

As for why this team was called the “Millionaires” in the first place, Oscar explained that, at one point, Bramwell had more millionaires per capita than any town in the United States. This was due to the rapid rise of the coal industry.

Oscar is a veteran of the Vietnam war who went on to serve 11 years in the Air Force, five in the Navy and then, finally, three more “at home” while in the National Guard. After his military career he became what he calls a “jack of all trades,” working all sorts of jobs at locales around the country. At one point he even took care of an elephant.

“I was in Charleston, West Virginia, and I was looking for a job,” he said. “This guy said, ‘Well, do you want to go on the road?’ You just have to feed [the elephant], buy him grain, care for it. The hardest thing was water. You can’t imagine how much water an elephant can drink. Just about a barrel full. But you could put 18 kids on an elephant, and it was two minutes a ride. If you’ve got an elephant, then you’re making money.”

Through it all, Oscar has always been a baseball fan. He called the sport his “first love”, and went on to play right field and, occasionally, pitch as a youth player. His biggest baseball hero is Hank Aaron, and he is a huge fan of the Cleveland Indians. He’s a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club, and attends just about every game at Bowen Field.

Tonight, Oscar’s ballpark meal would be a chili dog along with a “Big Whiskey Barbecue Sandwich,” a new offering courtesy of a partnership with Bluefield’s Big Whiskey BBQ.

img_0023Oscar began with the Big Whiskey, which he had never had before.

“I’m surprised, it’s got a bourbon-like taste to it,” said Oscar, whose favorite local barbecue meal is ribs at The Railyard. “There’s a little bit of honey to it and it’s hot. It’s spicy. I’d get it again.”

img_0024Next up was the Chili Dog, an item that Oscar has enjoyed on hundreds (thousands?) of occasions.

img_0025“The chili dogs are delicious, I get ’em every night. And usually a popcorn, water and Gatorade,” he said. “The meat is real beef, and that helps. I don’t want to eat a hot dog if there’s any suspicion that it’s pork. Just beef.”

During the intervals of our time together when his mouth wasn’t full, I enjoyed hearing about Oscar’s various talents and life experiences. He plays the melodica and, on occasion, writes poetry. He proudly showed me his poem, Your World, which originally appeared in the Bramwell Aristocrat newspaper.

img_0028As Oscar and I spoke, I sipped on a soda. And, yes, this soda was in a souvenir cup that I duly photographed for all you #Cupdate aficionados out there.

img_0030As our time together was winding down, Oscar bought a sizable amount of 50-50 raffle tickets.

“You want an arm’s length,” he said.

img_0029“I enjoyed talking to you,” said Oscar, as we parted ways. “[Bowen Field has] got a really good atmosphere, going on for quite some time. It’s always been a place I want to be. It’s a part of life here, I guess you could say.”






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.


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.


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_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_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.



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.





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.


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.


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.


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.'”





About Last Night: Bluefield Blue Jays, July 1, 2016

This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll write a quick blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my presumed return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and perhaps even love. Last night I visited Bluefield, Virginia, the seventh stop on my 10-team Appy League road trip.

July 1: Bowen Field, home of the Bluefield Blue Jays (Rookie-level affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays) 

Opponent: Kingsport Mets, 7:00 p.m. start time

Bowen Field, from the outside: 

IMG_0002Bowen Field, from within: 

IMG_1793Culinary Creation: The Big Whisky BBQ Sandwich, provided by the local restaurant of the same name. At $5, it’s the most expensive item on the menu.

IMG_0024Ballpark Character: Henry “Double Loud” Belcher (Correction: Henry’s nickname is “Double Out.” But “Double Loud” works pretty well, too).


At Random: Blue Jays manager Dennis Holmberg in his colorfully decorated office, adjacent to a colorfully decorated clubhouse.

IMG_0006Your Groundbreaking and Subversive Ballpark Joke of the Day: 

My Appy League articles on MiLB.com thus far: 

Fellowship in Greeneville

An Emotional Kingsport Debut

Up Next: 

7/2: Pulaski Yankees

7/3: Danville Braves

7/4: Burlington Royals