Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 15, 2014

Beer at Bowen: Baseball fans will have final say

The decision by the management of the Bluefield Blue Jays to reintroduce beer sales at Bowen Field is a decision that is certainly ripe for community debate. And already both supporters and opponents of this decision are speaking out. But at the end of the day — or the 2014 Blue Jays season — it will ultimately be local baseball fans who make or break beer sales at Bowen Field.

 Blue Jays General Manger Jeff Gray correctly notes that a majority of Minor League teams already sell beer. The Blue Jays, and the Princeton Rays, have been an exception. One of the reasons why the Princeton Rays don’t sell beer at Hunnicutt Field is because the ballpark is owned by the Mercer County Board of Education, and alcohol can’t be consumed on school property.

But the situation at Bowen Field is different. The ballpark is owned by the city of Bluefield, and leased to the Bluefield Baseball Club. Gray says the decision to reintroduce beer came after many requests by fans. He says there will be a beer garden where those who choose to drink will be able to do so while enjoying the game. Gray says fans also will be allowed to drink in select seating locations. He adds that management has also has established a designated driver initiative, and has taken additional measures including family seating zones where beer will be prohibited. He says the park has added security to ensure the enjoyment of all, and argues that beer sales will not detract from the family friendly environment associated with the Blue Jays.

Gray makes a lot of valid points and so does Community Connections Executive Director Greg Puckett. As the local family resource network for Mercer County, Puckett’s agency is speaking out in opposition to the beer sales. Puckett said officials at Community Connections are very concerned, and “somewhat disappointed,” in the decision by the Blue Jays management team to sell beer. Puckett said children attend the baseball games, and will be exposed to alcohol. He adds that Bowen Field is also located directly adjacent to Lotito Park and the popular Yakkity Yak playground for children — posing additional risks to children and their families.

“I have been to Charleston, and the West Virginia Power games, and they sell alcohol,” Puckett said. “But those are large metropolitan areas. They are not the community-based environment we typically find in the Appalachian League. We don’t feel it (beer) promotes the right family-style environment for our community.”

Some members of the community — and others who are commenting on the Daily Telegraph’s Facebook page — correctly note that beer is served at many restaurants. And these are restaurants where families are often present with their children. Some also believe that the beer sales will help to boost attendance at the Blue Jays games. Better attendance would be great and welcomed at both ballparks. The Blue Jays and Princeton Rays offer great, family fun close to home for just the cost of a $5 ticket. Families across our region should attend all home games. All seats at Bowen Field and Hunnicutt Field should be filled.

Mercer County is in the unique position of having two Minor League Baseball teams. That’s something to be proud of. It goes without saying that if we don’t support what we have  we certainly risk losing it.

 At the end of the day if beer sales will help to boost attendance — and bring a few more folks out to the ballpark — then why not? Let’s give it a chance. It may or may not work. If it becomes a problem, it should be discontinued. If it is popular, not problematic and helps to fill more seats at the ballpark, it should continue.

Ultimately, it will be local baseball fans who have the final say. They can either support the sale of beer or reject it.

But regardless of whether beer is or isn’t sold, let’s hope those fans show up and support both the Blue Jays and Princeton Rays.

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