Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 4, 2013

Princeton Rays' staff preparing for nonstop promotion

PRINCETON — Early visitors to Hunnicutt Field on Tuesdays this summer have the opportunity to acquire six different free T-shirts with a Princeton Rays theme — and a seventh will be offered on a Friday.

“T-Shirt Tuesdays” in Princeton is the newest promotion in the never-ending list from Princeton Rays general manager Jim Holland.

“They’re some pretty neat shirts,” Holland said as he busily prepared for the season over the weekend. “The (idea) got so popular, a client came to us and we added another date on Friday, August 2.”

One shirt highlights the Rays mascot, Roscoe the Rooster. Another celebrates the “Young Guns” of the Tampa Bay Rays pitching corps — Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb. All played in Princeton.

The 3,400 shirts will be offered to fans with paid admission during seven home dates, on a first-come, first-served basis. Quantities of the shirts vary from 300 to 500. The specific dates, and several of the T-shirt designs, may be found at the promotions page of princetonrays. net.

Holland said, “T-shirts are good for everybody involved. It expands our respective brands across the region, for both the client and the Rays.”

The July 23 date includes giveaways of 500 winter knit hats as well as 300 T-shirts. The shirts will list 38 Major League Baseball players who started in Princeton through the Rays minor league system, under the slogan “Major Leaguers grown here.”

“That T-shirt’s going to be very special,” Holland said. “That’s probably going to be one of the most popular shirts of our giveaway series.”

While preparations are practically complete on the T-shirt promotion, there are hundreds of details that Holland and his staff of interns will be working on prior to the start of the season. His interns report today to begin their summer job.

The 2013 edition of the Rays is expected to begin practice at Hunnicutt Field on the evening of June 17 under new manager Danny Sheaffer. Holland said the three pre-season practices are open to the public, and the souvenir stand will be open.

The regular season begins this year on the road in Danville, Va., on June 20. The first home game is at 6:05 p.m. Sunday, June 23, the start of a three-day series with the Burlington Royals.

“Everybody wants to open at home. Who doesn’t?” Holland said. “But that’s how the schedule falls this year.”

“There’s always plenty to do, and quite honestly, opening nights are quite challenging,” he said. “With the extra three days, hopefully we can perfect our craft a little bit.”

Holland has been perfecting his role in Princeton since November 1991, well before the Tampa Bay Rays were created.

He recalled that the Rays had their minor-league operations, including the Princeton franchise, operating a year before Tampa Bay began play in the American League.

“We’ve been the Rays longer than the Rays,” he joked.

Then there’s the streak of 752 consecutive home games under his watch in which the Princeton club has offered a promotion, giveaway or special event for the Hunnicutt Field faithful.

“That’s quite a streak,” he said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Among this year’s specials is “Dollar Dogs and More Thursdays.” On the four home-date Thursdays, hot dogs, popcorn and fountain soft drinks in a souvenir cup are $1 each.

A broad array of between-inning contests is on the agenda, as are two bobblehead giveaway nights, and cheer sticks and team photo giveaways.

This will be the sixth year for the Princeton Rays Kids Club, which includes a “members-only” picnic on June 18 with the team’s players — one of six picnic meals for the children.

Fans age 55 and above are eligible to join the Golden Rays Club at a reduced rate of $20. That group began three years ago.

This season, members wearing their Golden Rays T-shirts can receive a 10 percent discount on their first visit to the concession stand on home-date Sundays during the regular season. Plans call for a mid-season luncheon with Sheaffer as well.

Holland was named the winner of the Appalachian League Promotional Award of Excellence last September — for a record fifth time.

But he’s not resting on past accomplishments.

“One of our goals is to drive more traffic to our website,” he said. “This is (an emphasis) we’ve been talking about for a couple of years.”

Game highlights were among the video offerings on the team’s website last year, and according to plans for this summer, player interviews taped before the games will be added.

“We should have moving video every night,” Holland said. “It should be an opportunity for every one of our fans to meet every one of our players personally. ... P-Rays TV will be alive and well.”

The team will also be getting its messages out via Twitter and Facebook, Holland said.

Live broadcasts of all 68 regular-season games will be carried on ESPN 102.3 FM; road games will air on two other stations, WAEY 1490 AM and on 103.3 FM. Veteran baseball broadcaster Garry Griffith will settle in behind the microphone.

“This will be our sixth year of the Princeton Rays radio network,” Holland said. “We’re tremendously pleased with that.”

He still expresses relief about the condition of the playing field after an extensive upgrade of its drainage system a couple of years ago. The field is able to dispose of up to 10 inches of rain in a 24-hour period, he said.

“We were dead last in the Appalachian League playing-field rankings from 2004 to 2010,” he said. “We’ve been in the top half in the rankings in each of the last two years. ... It has performed beautifully.”

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