Article Written by Craig Borden (@Craigers1221)
I have had the pleasure of visiting many baseball teams over the years and all at various levels of competition. As for the Blue Jays system, the only team I have yet to visit is the Vancouver Canadians. I happened to be in the area of Bluefield, Virginia and couldn’t help but visit what has been a very talented team over the past few seasons.
I dropped a message to the radio voice of the Bluefield Blue Jays, Zach Helton, and mentioned that I was going to do everything in my power to be able to make the game on July 25 while I was in town. He was ecstatic that I was going to be able to visit and finally get a chance to meet in person. His energy got me excited for my visit as we talked the night before via text message as the game was rained out. Thus, the day I was to visit would be a doubleheader.
After completing my day job in Radford, VA, I jumped in the rental car and began the hour and a half drive to Bluefield. About an hour into my drive, the first game had started and I tuned into the radio to hear my buddy Zach call the game. The Bristol Pirates jumped out to an early lead, but was quickly answered by Alejandro Kirk in the bottom of the 2nd. Kirk destroyed the pitch to tie the game up and set the tone for the Jays' offense in Game 1.
An inning later, I had the pleasure of hearing a great call from Zach, as he painted a picture of an incredible play by Cal Stevenson. Cal went to the wall and completely committed to catching a fly ball, regardless of what that meant to him. You could hear the impact he made with the wall over the radio feed, as he pulled off a phenomenal grab. Cal would eventually get back to his feet and not only stay in the game, but contribute in a huge way the following inning. He laced a triple into center field to lead off the inning and would eventually score. The Jays were in flight with a 2-1 lead.
I got to the ballpark with a pair of outs in the top of the 4th and enjoyed a quick beer and a hot dog before I sat down in the stands to enjoy the great baseball culture in Bluefield. There were plenty of loyal fans in the stands, including one that I found out later to be known as "Double Out," who had been to nearly every game for years. dating back to before the Jays even were part of the Bluefield scene. I made sure I said hi to this particular fan on my way out after hearing some great comments, even from the announcers' booth during the game. This is how loyal these fans are in Bluefield about their sports and you can tell the players get into the game even more because of this enthusiasm.
The Blue Jays came up in the bottom half of the 4th and gave me a show complete with fireworks. After a nice single from Luis De Los Santos, first baseman Patrick Morris came up to the plate in a long ball state of mind. The pitch from Oliver Garcia was mashed over the right-field wall, and as Morris trotted around the bases, the fans went wild. Such a great environment for these young players to be getting into pro baseball. The family environment can be felt throughout the ballpark's fans, all the way to the ownership of the team. This dedication to teamwork and family has become apparent in the players that have had the fortune of playing in the Appy League with the Bluefield Jays.
After taking in a few more innings in the stands, I decided it was time to go visit my friend Zach. He invited me right into the broadcast booth and we talked baseball between innings. We cheered as the Blue Jays tagged on a pair of runs in the 5th and 6th inning before things got interesting. The Pirates were able to mount a rally in the 7th inning and came within striking distance as they scored a pair of runs off of Joe DiBenedetto. Brad Wilson would come in and wrap up the game for the Jays in a 6-3 win.
Between games, Zach informed me that it had been a busy night in the booth and that I was not the only guest in town. Smokey the Bear threw out the first pitch and was a silent guest on the radio for the first game. Zach was nice enough to let me call Game 2 with him, but I was outranked by Grady Little in the second inning. During that conversation, I learned that Grady Little got his start as a manager for the Bluefield Orioles in 1980. It really was a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet him. He told a great story from his time in Bluefield on the air that I will never forget. He mentioned that the team was going through a rough spot and was not hitting at all. He apparently got to the park early one day and stuck the players bats in the ground like tombstones. He told the team "the bad luck dies today," and sure enough, the team started hitting. You could tell he really enjoyed his time in Bluefiel from how he talked about it and helped shape him into a great MLB Manager for the Indians, Red Sox, and Dodgers.
Zach and I got to call a great game as the Blue Jays jumped out to an early lead in the first. Luis De Los Santos doubled home a pair on a ball hit hard to right field. The Blue Jays would slowly bleed out the lead over the course of a hard fought game. What shocked me the most about this team was they never stopped trying to get back into it. These young Jays players showed plenty of heart as they fought literally until the last out. I think this attests to the great environment that has been established for years in Bluefield. The fans love this team and the players put their souls into this game for them. They would lose Game 2, 5-2, but they were never really out of the game. They were really just one timely hit short to get back into this one.
The ballpark is a great place to take in a ball game and has a feel you rarely see in typical stadiums. It is nestled in the mountains surrounded by the wilderness and had a great sunset during the game while I attended. I made the joke on the air with Zach that it almost has a Field of Dreams feel to it, just with a wilderness twist instead of the corn fields from the beloved baseball film.
This team has a ton to be proud of and this feeling of family is a thing of beauty. The ownership should be very proud of what they have built with this team. These guys clearly know how to have fun and put in a solid day's work. Plus, they get to watch the players that have since graduated from the team with pride and know that they learned how to play the game like professionals - the right way in Bluefield.
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