Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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June 18, 2013

P-Rays greet local fans as opening night approaches

PRINCETON — The sun’s rays shone on the Princeton Rays and their fans, young and old, for a few minutes on Tuesday evening, a big change from a rainy morning in Mercer County.

Members of the public, who are not normally allowed onto the playing surface, made the most of the annual “Meet the P-Rays” event at Hunnicutt Field.

David King of Princeton watched as his son Chad, 7, tossed a baseball and ran after it through the green grass and gray gravel.

“We come to several baseball games every year,” David King said. Meeting the players personally was “a pretty nice experience,” he said.

The father held another baseball for safekeeping, freshly signed by seven or eight of the new Rays in town.

Chad King was excited about signing up for children’s games at the ballpark. Asked if he would attend a lot of this year’s games, he said, “Yeah. And next year.”

David Faria had made the trip from Southern California to visit the Appalachians again and see his son Jake start his second season for the Princeton Rays.

“The weather’s kind of weird,” David Faria said, “but everybody’s nice.”

“It was a long off-season,” he said. “(Jake) worked a lot.” Discussing the players’ potential experiences this year, he said, “I just hope everybody performs, does his best, and gets where he wants to be.”

Mori Williams, president of the Princeton Baseball Association board, looked over the scene from beneath the bill of a Princeton Rays cap.

“This is great,” he said. “The community really supports this team, and that’s what we need to keep professional baseball in Princeton. The young men that Tampa Bay sends us are always classy, and take the time to talk to the kids — and the adults!”

“Both sides, the players and the fans, seem to enjoy it very much.”

The new manager of the Rays this season, Danny Sheaffer, circulated among his players and walked some of them over to where fans were standing, near the large chain-link gate under the grandstand.

He chuckled as catcher Chad Nacapoy flipped soft tosses to little children with baseball gloves in the grass behind home plate.

Batting coach Reinaldo Ruiz and pitching coach Darwin Peguero stood at the edge of the first baseline, watching the interactions take place.

Sheaffer said, “I think it’s more beneficial for the players to interact, than it is for the fans to interact, because I don’t think they (the players) are used to it; I don’t think they’re used to being the center of attention.”

He called the event “a good way for them to start their PR career,” explaining that it’s not possible for professional baseball players to live all their days in their own sealed-off environment.

The manager said, “The field is like a fake world. It’s ‘our world,’ and nobody (else) can be in ‘our world.’ But once you leave the field, you have to be in the middle of society, and you have to act like an adult, and you have to be able to converse, and get along with people.”

“So this is more beneficial for our players, I think, than for anybody else.”

Just before 6 p.m., the team lined up and paired off with 13 children, members of the P-Rays Kids Club, for an “exclusive” picnic supper — which was to be followed by a team practice.

The Rays launch the new season on Thursday at Danville, with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. Princeton’s home opener will be at 6:05 p.m. Sunday with Burlington.

All 68 Princeton games will be broadcast on radio station 102.3 FM.

A preview of the Sheaffer’s outlook on the season will run later this week in the Daily Telegraph.

— Contact Tom Bone at

tbone@bdtonline.com

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