Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Elizabethton Twins 4 at Bluefield Blue Jays 1 (7, Appalachian League) - August 15, 2016

Last month when I did a short trip through the Appalachians, the game I had planned to see at Bowen Field in Bluefield was cancelled at the last minute due to a protest that was to be held nearby. In the end, it seemed like an overreaction as only about 100 people marched, but whatever the case, I had to figure out a way to get back here. Fortunately, the Blue Jays were home during this trip and as Bluefield is only four hours from Columbia, I was able to scoot up here for a game on Monday night.

Bowen Field

Originally built in 1939, Bowen Field housed teams belonging to a few major league clubs through the years, including the Orioles from 1958-2010, the longest affiliation in history. In 1973, the ballpark burned to the ground, but a new concrete stadium was constructed in its place and it remains standing to this day. Bowen Field is located in Lotito City Park which straddles the state line between West Virginia (where the team's mailing address is) and Virginia (where the stadium actually resides). The main building in which the box office sits was recently repainted; to see how it looked previously, click here. This might be the only stadium where the actual entrance is a single door, as you can see below.

Parking is free as at all Appalachian League ballparks. Foul balls do occasionally enter the lot so park close to the road. There is a tank on display here, about which I could find no explanation.

Tickets are $6 for general admission, which are all the orange seats in the seating bowl. A small walkway separates these seats from reserved seats that are right next to the protective netting.

Most of the seating bowl is covered, but that leads to some support poles, so sitting at the back is not recommended.  The seats in the middle four sections, between the yellow railings, are family sections and thus alcohol is not allowed there.

The seats are numbered in random order, so they couldn't sell assigned seating even if they wanted to.

When you walk in, you will be in a plaza area that includes the Bird Nest (team shop) and the concession stand. Programs in newspaper format are available for $1 and include a lucky number ticket with prizes drawn throughout the game.

If you do want to drink, there is a small bar down the left field line called "RailYard at the Ballpark" after a local downtown establishment. This seems like a good place to stand for a few innings if you are with a small group.

There are a number of reserved seating areas for season ticket holders, all of which use plastic patio chairs. Some are right next to the screen behind home plate as shown above, while others are down the lines (below). You can even have food and drinks delivered to these areas, a service of which many fans partake. Food is cheap here, though there isn't much other than typical ballpark fare, with Haagen Dazs ice cream bars a surprise bargain at just $2.

As you walk to the seating bowl, you will pass a number of plaques honouring various contributions to the stadium, a nice touch. However, I did not see any "Road to the Show" display.

Bluefield is famous for its loudest occupant, Henry Belcher, who yells throughout the game. It was mildly annoying for a couple of innings, but I soon tuned him out as I couldn't understand him most of the time. A much quieter denizen is Baby Jay, the mascot who appears on occasion to wave at fans with a non-bird-like appendage.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time here, which was altogether too short. The location is quite scenic with hills in the distance providing a great backdrop to watch the game, and like all parks in the league, a night out is very affordable. Staff here was very friendly, though of course I was wearing my Blue Jays jersey. I hope to come back here again sometime to see a few more future Blue Jays beginning their pro career.

The Game

The Elizabethton Twins were visiting, finishing up a three-game series. However, the Sunday game had been suspended due to rain, so that had to be completed first. The Twins were leading 5-1 in the top of the 4th when play resumed, but Bluefield, who are 12-2 in August, stormed back to take a 6-5 lead, only to give up runs in the 8th and 9th to lose 7-6.

Doubleheaders in the minors consist of 7-inning games, and that rule applies in this situation as well, so the nightcap would be a shortened affair. Tyler Wells (15th round in 2016) started for Elizabethton, while Osman Gutierrez was Bluefield's hurler. Gutierrez was solid, needing only 18 pitches to get through the first two innings, but his fielding cost him in the third. Trey Cabbage (4th, 2015, Minnesota's #24 prospect) led off and bunted right back at Gutierrez, who bobbled it for an error. Cabbage stole second, advanced to third on an infield single from Ariel Montesino and scored on a wild pitch. Manuel Guzman followed with a single that moved Montesino to third, which allowed Guzman to steal second as well a couple of pitches later. Amaurys Minier then singled both home to make it 3-0 Twins, all runs unearned.

Meanwhile, Wells had shut out the Jays through five frames, but he ran into trouble in the sixth, walking Nick Sinay (22nd, 2015) to lead things off before Reggie Pruitt (24th, 2015, Jays #24 prospect) singled. Wells tried to pickoff Sinay but Guzman missed the catch and the runners advanced. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Jays #7 prospect) hit a sacrifice fly that made it 3-1, another unearned run. Wells was then replaced by Johan Quezada, who immediately hit Javier Monzon, signed this year out of Cuba. Bradley Jones (18th, 2016) followed with a grounder to Montesino at short. The toss to Guzman was in plenty of time, but as he turned, Monzon slid into him, getting called for interference and the automatic double play. The slide led to a bit of pushing and benches cleared (below), with Guzman throwing the ball at Monzon, which resulted in both players being ejected.

Gutierrez remained in the game to start the 7th but was pulled after walking Cabbage and Caleb Hamilton (23rd, 2016). Stuart Holmes (35th, 2015) came in for Bluefield and Montesino sacrificed, but a wild pitch followed that allowed Cabbage to score the final tally (the only earned run on the evening) as Elizabethton won 4-1. This was a well-pitched game that moved quickly until the last inning, when some silly childishness slowed things down. It will be interesting to see if Guzman gets suspended for throwing at Monzon.


As it turns out, the cancelled game might have been a blessing in disguise as by choosing to visit Bluefield, I had to nix Jackson, Mississippi (where I was rained out back in June) on this trip. This will save about 1,000 miles of driving, and although I'll have to visit Jackson next year, this won't be a huge problem with new stadiums in Atlanta and Kissimmee ensuring I'll be back in the south sometime during the summer of 2018.

Even better, the giveaway today was a camouflage cap, which immediately became my favourite cap.

Although the entire seating area is protected by netting, you still need to pay attention. One foul ball was lined at high speed straight back over the netting. Amazingly, it did not land in the seats, instead hitting the concrete wall at the back and rebounding back over the seats down to the walkway, still at high speed, where it narrowly missed two youngsters who were walking back to their seats after having been on the field for a promotion. Everybody watching could see the potential danger and many gasped audibly when the ball whizzed by the kids' heads. Thankfully they were unhurt, but the incident only serves to emphasize how important it is to watch the ball when you are at a game, regardless of how safe you think you are.

With this ballpark, I have completed all 10 Appy League venues (logos below) and 130 minor league parks overall.

Next Up

I've got a lot of driving and games coming up as I'm off to Bowling Green tonight, then Nashville and Kodak on Wednesday before heading back to Georgia to see Rome on Thursday and Gwinnett on Friday. I won't have much time to update so check back on the weekend for recaps of all those visits.



1 comment:

  1. Hmm, Belcher sounds like the Appalachian version of Fuzzy.