By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The impressively tall Mercer Cup trophy, made of dark wood and shiny metal, held a dominant place in the room on Tuesday as media members met with the new manager of the Princeton Rays, Danny Sheaffer, and other members of the P-Rays family in Princeton.
It didn’t take long for Sheaffer to make reference to the towering symbol of the local Appalachian League rivalry between the P-Rays and Bluefield Blue Jays.
“I’ve heard enough about this thing, all day,” the newcomer to Princeton said. “We’ve got to keep it here.”
Those were words to warm up a cold day for members of the Princeton Baseball Association board of directors, many of whom were elbow-to-elbow with reporters for a lunch with the new manager in the fellowship hall of the First Christian Church of Princeton.
Sheaffer was listed as the “guest of honor” at the lunch, and he used his time to describe his motivation to spend 33 years in professional baseball, plus his interests in such things as providing water purification systems to third-world countries and 13 years of involvement in sports mission trips overseas.
Mori Williams, president of the local baseball association, said after the meeting, “He’s a class human being.”
Williams has done his homework on the new skipper of the rookie-level club. The Princeton banker, an avid baseball card collector, even looked up Sheaffer’s major-league career and checked to see if he had a Danny Sheaffer card. He said, with a smile, that he did.
After spending time with the new manager, who drove up from his home in Mount Airy, N.C., Williams said, “He’s not paying lip service when he says he enjoys being here in Princeton.”
“We’re excited about having him here,” Williams said. “He’s going to bring a lot to these kids (on the Princeton Rays roster). He’s the type of manager who will see that they not only learn a lot about baseball, but that they learn a lot about life.”
That was also the impression left with Bill Pollack, a member of the baseball club’s board of directors and the pastor of the church that hosted the lunch.
“I’m very impressed with him and his hopes and plans for these young men,” Pollack said.
He referred to Sheaffer’s “spiritual background,” and said the players “are going to have a solid father figure (who) can become a positive experience in their lives.”
“Hopefully, that can translate into play on the field and into wins — but it’s not all about winning,” Pollack said.
On the rookie level, it is also about player development. Princeton general manager Jim Holland reminded attendees of that when he noted a memento for each lunch guest: a bobblehead figurine of Tampa Bay center fielder Desmond Jennings, a P-Rays alumnus.
Holland talked about the “$67 million outfield” that the P-Rays deployed at Hunnicutt Field at the turn of the century, that included Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton.
With an eye toward getting visitors to the ballpark to see upcoming baseball stars, Holland said, “In Princeton, good things can happen.”
He said the attractions to entice people to come out to Hunnicutt Field continue in an unbroken tradition that he called “The Streak.”
This will be the 22nd straight season in which every home game Princeton plays will have some promotion, giveaway or special discount ticket offer. At the end of the 2013 season, the streak will have extended to 752 dates, he said.
“As an organization, we’re very proud of that streak, and we don’t have any intention of letting that drop any time soon,” Holland said.
He announced that the six regular-season home games played on Tuesdays this year will be “P-Rays T-Shirt Tuesday.” There will be at least 300 free T-shirts given away on each of those dates, with a different shirt design for each game.
Another promotion he announced was “dollar dogs,” or $1 hot dogs, popcorn and soft drinks when the team plays at home on Thursdays this year.
The usual wide range of giveaways will include new items this season, including a P-Rays knit “toboggan” hat, and bobblehead figures of Tampa Bay players Matt Joyce and Matt Moore. Moore played in Princeton in 2007-08.
Turning his attention to the Appalachian League schedule for this season, Holland noted that for the first year since 1994, the P-Rays will open the season somewhere other than Princeton or Bluefield. The first games are June 20-22 in Danville.
“The last time we did that, we won the championship. It’s the last time we won it,” Holland said. Then he looked in Sheaffer’s direction. “No pressure,” he said as he broke into a grin.
— Contact Tom Bone at