Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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August 3, 2013

Gray feeling comfortable in role as Blue Jays new general manager

BLUEFIELD — With the Appalachian League baseball season heading into its final weeks, the Bluefield Blue Jays currently sit atop the East Division.

While manager Dennis Holmberg guides the Jays between the chalk lines, Jeff Gray makes sure that the chalk lines are down, the concessions are ready, souvenirs are stocked and fans have an memorable event at Bowen Field. Gray is in his first season as general manager of the Bluefield baseball club and he recently reflected on the season thus far.

“I think it has been good,” Gray said. “There have obviously been a lot of challenges as with any position. Coming in here there were a lot of expectations and a lot of things that we needed to work on just to improve the team and make it better, take it to the next level and we started doing that.

“There are always challenges you’re never going to see coming each day. My staff works really hard and I’m getting more comfortable as it goes, each rain delay, each little issue that we have, solving the problems pretty quickly the more I get used to it.”

Gray has previously worked with the Auburn, N.Y. team in the New York-Penn League and most recently with the U.S. Army baseball team. While stints with those organizations helped prepare him for his current post, he said there are still challenges that come with the job.

“Just being in charge of everything, all aspects of the operation, making sure everything runs smoothly,” Gray pointed out. “Managing a staff of 35 can be challenging, dealing with not just logistical issues with the team, those are probably my biggest challenges, but trying to find enough hours in the day to take care of everything. I have a great staff here. They’ve been really helpful and of course George McGonagle has been helpful in that transition.”

While there are still more than 20 games to go in the season, Gray already points to some things accomplished this season which bring him satisfaction.

“Our Kid’s Club, we really got it off the ground. We have about 30 members,” Gray said. “We’ve implemented some new programs, some on-field games, different promotions. We had a player hit a home run over the Chik-fil-A sign, so everybody won a free chicken sandwich — and increasing the attendance, that’s my biggest goal as any team.

“Those are probably the things I am most proud of right now, and also expanding what w provide to the fans, such as more promotions and better stuff in the souvenir store, more variety, starting with the jerseys, a big step forward in trying to do new things here and making fans come first here at the ballpark.”

Bluefield is third in the 10-team Appalachian League in both overall attendance and average attendance, with 844 fans a game have been through the gates at Bowen Field a point not lost on Gray.

“The fans have been great so far,” Gray said. “We’ve really had a great turnout. The support from local businesses has been great. It helps that they are playing well on the field, but even when we weren’t, they were still coming out...but there’s always room to grow. We still need fans every game and a lot of people still don’t realize professional baseball is right here. Our fans have been great and the booster club supports the players very well.”

“We just want to get out in he community and reach more fans to get them in the ballpark and at the end of our day the biggest goal is to get more people in the seats, get more people accustomed to professional baseball because it is a treasure and the more fans see it, the more it will grow on them very quickly.”

— Contact Bob Redd at

bredd@bdtonline.com

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