After 53 years affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, Bluefield has a Blue Jays team. The name may sound more natural, but it doesn’t look that way in the Rookie-level Appalachian League standings.
To welcome the new team, the franchise changed the color scheme in Bowen Field. Much of the orange has been replaced with blue, and a new mascot has been out in the community. The Jays debuted Tuesday in Elizabethton, Tenn., and will play their home opener Friday night against the Danville Braves.
”Everything is a big change, but it’s the color scheme that will hit fans first,” Bluefield Blue Jays General Manager Chris Maxwell said on the team’s Web site.
The Bluefield Blue Jays have kept professional baseball going in the city on the border between West Virginia and Virginia. Bowen Field, built in 1939, is in a park that straddles the state line and is run by West Virginia.
The Orioles’ only Rookie-level affiliate is in the Gulf Coast League at their spring training home complex in Sarasota, Fla. They had seven affiliates last season but are down to the more common six, including another short-season team at Aberdeen in the Class A New York-Penn League..
With Bluefield, they had the longest-running relationship in all of the minor leagues. Cal Ripken Jr. played for the Bluefield Orioles, as did Don Baylor, Mark Belanger, Doug DeCinces, Bobby Grich, Eddie Murray, Johnny Oates and Boog Powell.
At least Bluefield’s rivalry with Mercer County neighbor Princeton, W.Va., will continue. The Blue Jays and the Princeton Rays will play for the Mercer Cup, which started in 1992.
”We’ll get in Appalachian League meetings and in other sorts of baseball meetings and we hear about teams trying to establish something like the Mercer Cup,” Princeton Rays General Manager Jim Holland told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, ”but the cities aren’t close enough, the rivalry is not there, there is just nothing like it in pro ball.”