Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Experience the summer thrill of baseball on and off the diamond with minor league match-ups across the Mountain State.
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Fans fill the stands, peanut shells at their feet and oversized drinks in their hands. Small children watch wide-eyed, eager to catch the next fly ball. Then, the bases are loaded at the bottom of the ninth and everyone is on the edge of their seats. Your favorite team is up to bat with two strikes against them. Here comes the pitch, and whack! It’s a home run.
There may not be a major league baseball team in West Virginia, but the minor league is alive and thriving in our own backyards. Three farm teams in Bluefield, Charleston, and Princeton share a common tradition of America’s favorite pastime and are where many major league players get their start.
Bluefield Blue Jays
Bluefield is a small town that’s big on baseball. With a population of just more than 10,000, Bluefield holds the record for the most championships won in Appalachian League history and is home to three hall-of-famers, says General Manager Chris Maxwell. The well-known and long-lasting Bluefield Orioles reigned for 53 straight years, having the longest affiliation on record with Baltimore. However, the Orioles did not return in 2010, and in 2011, under the Toronto Blue Jays parent team, the Orioles became the Bluefield Blue Jays.
The team has not only won 14 championships, but has sent an impressive 100 players to the majors since 1958, including hall-of-famers Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr., and Boog Powell. What makes the team special is its dedication to Bluefield.
As part of the Appalachian League and entering its 16th season, the Princeton Rays is an affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Over the years, 57 of the team’s former players have gone to the majors, says General Manager Jim Holland. Star outfielder Josh Hamilton, who plays for the Texas Rangers, hit the big time when he left the Rays in 1999. Another familiar name—Carl “The Perfect Storm” Crawford, plays left field for the Boston Red Sox. Jim says he’s one of the highest paid players in the majors. Carl also left the Rays in 1999 to reach the next level.
Jim says the team has had much success in the small town, gaining plenty of support from the community at home games at Hunnicutt Field. “A lot of larger cities have attempted a minor league team and failed,” he says.
West Virginia Power
The largest city in West Virginia and also the state capital, Charleston impresses locals and visitors alike with the West Virginia Power baseball team. Adam Marco, director of media relations, says the team was named as a tribute to the sources of power in the state. As part of the South Atlantic league since 1987, Adam says baseball has been custom to Charleston since the early 1900s, when railroad workers used to start their own teams. These days, WV Power fans join together for 70 home games each season at the new Appalachian Power Park in downtown Charleston.
Affiliated with a parent team in its own backyard—the Pittsburgh Pirates—WV Power has seen 24 players move up to the majors since 2005. One name that might stand out is MVP of the National League, Ryan Braun, a right-handed left fielder for the Milwaukee Brewers.