By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The Vettleson family, undoubtedly, holds the honor for longest trip to attend a Princeton Rays baseball game this season.
They also took part in Monday’s “Meet the Rays” event at Hunnicutt Field, on the eve of Princeton’s season-opener tonight against the Burlington Royals.
Their favorite Ray? It would be Drew Vettleson, an outfielder with the Rays, who was a first round supplemental draft choice in 2010 from a high school in a suburb of Seattle.
“We are real excited, we just flew down last night and got here this morning,” said Vettleson’s father, Jerry, who was joined by his wife, Kim, and Vettleson’s girlfriend, Hannah Anderson. They will stay in town for three games, and travel to Pulaski for the Rays’ first road trip. “I know he will come through good, I am just proud of him, very thrilled, it is kind of hard to talk about it.”
Drew Vettleson added, “I hadn’t seen them in a couple of months. It’s good to have him here. It is going to be cool to see them in the crowd, I am excited.”
So were the few fans that did gather at Hunnicutt Field on Monday evening, including brothers Mark and Jaimie Morehead, regulars at this event and Rays’ games, who are serving as a host family to Vettleson.
“We have been coming for the last 10 or 11 years, we enjoy it, watching the players come through and go up to the majors,” said Jamie Morehead, who remembers such Rays at Johnny Gomes, Wes Bankston and Jason Pridie.
Mark added, “I just love meeting the new players, I always like watching them start here first and seeing the players from different parts of the country.”
Remembering that the fans are vital part of any team is important, and Princeton General Manager Jim Holland makes sure that isn’t forgotten.
“These are always important to do before the season because getting in a routine, it is really tough to do a group thing like this, but it is good to build good will for the team,” Holland said. “It makes the players feel as comfortable here as it does the fans. They need to know this community is behind them so it is a really good thing.”
Princeton Manager Michael Johns agrees, knowing meeting the fans now will make the transition smoother to a higher level in future years.
“...You have got to learn how to deal with fans, you have got to learn how to deal with media, you have got to do all those things,” Johns said. “Even though it is on a smaller scale here, it is good because we want it on a smaller scale here because once we get into the big leagues they will know how to deal with it, so it is good.”
None of the players were complaining, as they gathered outside the first base dugout prior to the team’s final workout before starting the season tonight against Burlington at 7 p.m.
“My whole baseball career I have always been brought up to give back to the community and always make sure that you keep people around you who look up to you involved...,” said Princeton outfielder and first round draft choice Josh Sale. “I always want to be that guy that some of these people can approach. I don’t want people to think that [because] Josh Sale is a millionaire that I can’t talk to them.
“I want people to know if they want to talk I am always here, if they want to ask me a question I am always here. I try to make myself as open as possible, but I also try to get my work done at the same time.”
Princeton held a similar function on Sunday, a picnic with the P-Rays’ Kids Club. It was a hit for players like Cameron Seitzer, a first baseman whose father, Kevin, played for 11 years in the major leagues.
“It was great, everybody here loves the Princeton Rays baseball team,” Seitzer said. “I like it, Princeton is a great place, I heard things and I didn’t know what to expect, but once I got here, I was excited. It is a great town and I am just ready to play.”
Vettleson and Sale both commented on how similar Princeton is to their home in Seattle.
“I am excited, it reminds me of home. It is kind of the same weather, it is going to be really hot tomorrow, but I love this town, it is kind of a nice town, it is awesome,” Vettleson said. “Some of these people have been fans of the Princeton Rays for a long time so it is cool meeting new people and having them to come and watch the games.”
Those games begin tonight. Holland said the Rays were “on target” in being ready for the first pitch, while former Princeton Rays’ manager and current roving catcher instructor Jamie Nelson was impressed by the much-improved playing surface at Hunnicutt Field.
Johns simply wants to play ball. So does his team.
“I think the key thing here is opening up and I think everyone is excited obviously,” Johns said. “Hopefully we can tone our emotions down, including myself. We are all excited. We are all just chomping at the bit to get through these next 24 or 25 hours and get it going.”
Princeton’s avid fan base will be ready.
“It is really fun,” Mark Morehead said. “When you have your own player you can have somebody in particular to cheer for and it makes it even more fun. We come to most every game.”
— Contact Brian Woodson