Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

February 23, 2014

Crosier sings the praises of Princeton and Appy League

PRINCETON — Over at Bowen Field on Wednesday afternoon, a 9-foot snowman was situated in the third base coach’s box, having been built there by members of the Bluefield College baseball team.

Surrounded by several inches of snow that has since mercifully melted away, it looked like anything but baseball weather.

Yet, baseball was the primary topic a few miles away in Princeton.

Among the guests at the Princeton Rays’ annual media appreciation luncheon was Steve Crosier, who has been a strength and conditioning coach for eight years in the minor leagues, including in 2011 and ‘13 in Princeton.

“Steve has been around the globe and back again,” said Jim Holland, the general manager of the Princeton Baseball Association for the last 23 years. “Tampa Bay has not named their strength coach yet here, but I know who I would like it to be.”

That would be fine with Crosier, who served as a guest speaker, along with Jeremy Cummings, a former West Virginia University pitcher, a 10-year minor league veteran, and a bronze medal winner for the U.S. Olympic baseball team in 2008.

“You guys do a great job here with the Rays,” said Crosier, who served as Cummings high school coach at South Charleston. “I have been in the Appalachian League six out of my eight years in professional baseball.

“I know this league and this part of the country really well. My two years here in Princeton, I know what type of support that allows us as the coaches and the players for our delivery of services, you guys do a great job.

“I know you might be thinking, ‘I knew you were going to say something like that’, but I really mean that because I have a lot of things to compare it to.”

Crosier was a two-time All-American baseball player at West Virginia State, and was later baseball coach at South Charleston. In addition to his minor league experience,  he spent two years in strength and conditioning with the basketball team at New Mexico State for former UNLV and NBA star Reggie Theus.

Currently a teacher and coach at Nitro High School, Crosier is an definite ambassador for baseball in Princeton.

“I really wanted the assignment, it is close to my house,” said Crosier, on first getting the position in Princeton in 2011. “I know what type of people are here, the hospitality level is second to none, the ball park is great.

“I was taking Jeremy around, I took him to the fitness center where we worked the athletes out in the morning. The locker rooms, the clubhouse, these guys are really lucky to have this.

“The facilities here, the program, the delivery of services that you allow us to do is very good, you have a lot to be proud of.”

Holland, who is contagiously optimistic and enthusiastic about the Rays, also spoke to the 40 or so in attendance, adding that 62 major leaguers have been produced since baseball began in this part of Mercer County in 1988.

“The Princeton Rays are doing the job that the Tampa Bay Rays want us to do here, and that is to develop future major leaguers,” said Holland, who likes to remind anyone who will listen that Princeton is one of 160 cities in America with minor league baseball. “Our count here now of former Princeton players that have went on to play in the big leagues is 62.

“That just stays with Tampa Bay’s philosophy of working through player development as opposed to going out and trading and doing all this stuff. If you read the preseason publications Tampa Bay is being looked up quite favorably to go deep into the postseason.”

Crosier is confident that all 62 of those players, from Josh Hamilton and Carl Crawford to Jonny Gomes and Matt Moore, have taken something with them from their experiences in Princeton.

“The kids that come through here, a lot of times they are starting their careers, and they are not really sure where they are at,” Crosier said. “They are just beginning professionals, then the reality of the situation sets in, but there have been 62 pros come through here.

“I guarantee that they picked up some things along the way in Princeton.”

Holland is justifiably proud of the Rays’ status in professional baseball, including a rather amazing streak that will continue in 2014, a definite crowd pleaser for baseball fans.

“One thing that we really take pride in in Princeton and this will hold true again this year, this will be our 23rd straight year that we have had some sort of promotion, giveaway or some type of discount special for every home game,” said Holland, who spent two seasons with the Huntington Cubs before arriving in Princeton.

Princeton will play 68 games in the Appalachian League this season, including 34 at home, beginning with a season-opening three-game series on June 19-21 against Bristol, which is now affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates and not the White Sox.

Ironically, the Bluefield Blue Jays will also open at home on the same days with the Johnson City Cardinals.

Crosier shares Holland’s confidence in what Princeton can provide to the players that the Tampa Bay organization entrusts to Mercer County each summer.

“I always tell the kids, the weather is second to none, there is hardly any humidity, you are playing in a great work place with the people and hospitality and all the resources in around the Princeton area and plus distractions are minimal,” Crosier said. “This is almost the perfect baseball town, the Rays would be crazy to move out of the Appalachian League and the area of Princeton, it is great for development, you guys have a lot to be proud of.

“You don’t hear it enough, but I am telling you from an expert. I have coached in a lot of places, your support you have here and the things you guys do is second to none, especially at this level.”

The tutelage that the youngsters receive in Princeton is similar to what Crosier faces as a teacher each day.

“To be part of that developmental will is really good,” Crosier said. “This is a kids business, we are helping kids out, whether they are young adults here in Princeton or in the classroom.

“I am around the kids all the time and you hear a lot of different things, but I have never heard anybody say they have had a bad experience in Princeton.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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