BLUEFIELD, Va. — A name lodged in the lore of the Bluefields resurfaced on Tuesday morning as a new “branding” was revealed for Bowen Field’s Appalachian League franchise.
The Bluefield Ridge Runners will begin play this summer, manning the diamond at the 81-year-old facility. The new name and logo were announced at a press conference on a snowy morning.
The name change was necessary since Major League Baseball decided last year to discontinue placing its lower-level minor league teams in the Appalachian League. Instead of evaporating, the Appy League recreated itself as a summer circuit for developing college players.
The team’s general manager, Rocky Malamisura, said that Tuesday was “a great day for baseball here in Bluefield. We are very, very excited for this year, and the prospect of hosting a collegiate wood-bat league.”
The 10-team league “will bring together 320 of the best rising freshmen and sophomores in the collegiate ranks,” he said.
Players will be drawn from schools ranging from big universities to smaller NAIA colleges, in a cooperative arrangement between an established player-development program, USA Baseball, and the major leagues.
Those changes meant new names for each of the Appy League franchises. Malamisura said that more than 125 names were suggested for the Bluefield club, a range that “covered the entire gambit of possibilities.”
One of his favorites was “the Double-Outs,” a tip of the cap to the cheer yelled out at hundreds of Bluefield games by a now-deceased local fan, Henry Belcher.
The final list comprised five names that went through an “advanced legal search,” to avoid any charges of copyright infringement, Malamisura said.
The Ridge Runner train now ferries little children around Lotito Park in Bluefield. It dates back at least to 1964, when it ran on a tiny track on top of East River Mountain overlooking the Bluefields and weaving across the state line of the Virginias.
“With the rich railroading history and coal-mining history that we’ve had here in the area … the little train just became a symbol of the region,” Malamisura said. He said the choice was “a great, great honor (to) our heritage.”
There was a late glitch when research uncovered another “entity” using the name.
“There was not another sports club,” he said. “There was another private entity out there that used the name ‘Ridge Runner,’ but their name meant something entirely different. So we were able to jump through the legal hoops, and work out an agreement.”
That led to Tuesday’s unveiling, introduced by a short video that displayed old film footage and paid homage to some pro baseball stars who debuted professionally at Bowen Field. When the video ended, the new logo — a stylized locomotive with a smiling face — was revealed on the front wall of the Coppinger Room.
Applause filled the air.
Donnie Linkous, mayor of Bluefield, Va., said, “I can’t think of a better name. This is going to be just fantastic. And I think we’ll get a lot of support.”
The Charles A. Peters Baseball Park, the site of Bowen Field, lies within the state of Virginia just a few hundred yards from the state line with West Virginia. The ballpark property is owned by the city of Bluefield, W.Va.
The administration of the Virginia-side town will “work together” with the city of Bluefield, W.Va., “for the good of both citizenries,” Linkous said.
“We’re just tickled to death to have this park here.”
Colin Cline, city attorney for the West Virginia municipality, said, “The logo ties the ballclub to the park as a whole … This community really largely exists because of the railroad. So it’s entirely fitting that there be a railroad as part of the logo. There just couldn’t have been a better name chosen.”
He congratulated Malamisura, and George McGonagle, president of the Bluefield Baseball Club.
Cline said that after talking to Appy League officials, “My understanding is that Rocky and George in particular were instrumental, not only in the operations of this club, but in securing the Appalachian League’s role in baseball in this country going forward. So we owe them a huge debt.”
“What they’ve delivered to us is the future for baseball in Bluefield,” Cline said. “And I’m thrilled to death.”
“Hopefully, this will assure (the team’s) continuity for years and years and years to come.”
Linkous said, “I think it’ll bring a lot of families into Bluefield that didn’t normally come. It’s a great opportunity for us to show them what we are, and what we have. We have a great hospitality here; we have a great area.”
The Ridge Runners’ first game is scheduled for Saturday, June 5, but much has to be done between now and then.
Tickets should go on sale by mid-March, Malamisura said. He added, “We hope that within the next six weeks we’ll have merchandise available for sale.”
He will be concentrating in the short term on advertising sales to generate revenue, including wall signs, program ads, and lining up sponsored nights at the ballpark.
“We’re going to need extra support from the community,” he said. “Because of the rebranding being so late, it puts us in just a little bit of a bind.”
Cline said, “I’m just excited that, come June fifth, hopefully, me and other fans will be able to sit in this ballpark, enjoy a beverage and a fantastic, beautiful Bluefield summer evening at Bowen Field once again. I just can’t wait.”
In its long history, Bowen Field has been home to the Bluefield Dodgers for one season, 1957; the Orioles from 1958 to 2010; and the Blue Jays from 2011 on. The 52-year relationship with the Baltimore Orioles was the longest continuous tenure between an MLB team and a minor-league city in the history of the sport, according to baseball historians.