By TOM BONE
BLUEFIELD — Celebrating a 50th anniversary is worth some work. A lot of work. Next week that work will produce results when the Bluefield Orioles begin their season — their 50th consecutive year as a Baltimore minor league affiliate.
George McGonagle is energized about the historic occasion, as he enters his final season in charge at Bowen Field.
“There’s a lot of interest out there,” he said Tuesday afternoon between phone calls at the 85-year-old ballpark. “People have been calling it ‘a great idea.’ It’s all been super positive.”
That anniversary has made this “a very abnormal season,” he said.
Opening night is Tuesday at 7 p.m. when the Bristol White Sox visit. Another visitor will be the major league Baltimore bird mascot, who will autograph photos for the fans and perform on the field and in the stands along with his Bluefield counterpart.
A plaque memorializing the late Patsy Malamisura, a Bowen Field volunteer for decades, will be dedicated on opening night. “He’s just been missed by so many people,” McGonagle said. “He didn’t know a stranger.”
Federal, state and local office holders will be on hand to offer 50th anniversary tributes before the game on Saturday, June 23, McGonagle said.
Rep. Nick Joe Rahall II (D-W.Va.) will present a resolution. West Virginia state senators Don Caruth (R-Mercer), H. Truman Chafin (D-Mingo) and Jesse Guills (R-Greenbrier), and Virginia state senator Phillip Puckett (D-Russell) have confirmed their attendance as well.
Representatives from the Town of Bluefield, Va., the City of Bluefield, and members of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and the Mercer County Commission will join in.
McGonagle, just off the phone with Gov. Joe Manchin’s office in Charleston, said, “We’re still working on the governor.” Virginia Governor Tim Kaine will be unable to attend.
Jim Duquette, Baltimore Orioles vice president for baseball operations, will accept the various resolutions. McGonagle said he is “the No. 2 man” in the Baltimore organization, and added the Orioles public relations office “has been very helpful to us.”
Following the Saturday game, fireworks are planned.
Samantha Messenger, an intern working with the Bluefield franchise this year, said, “It’s been crazy. We’ve been very busy. There are always people in and out, and the phones have been ringing off the hook.
“With the 50th anniversary coming up, there’s so much to do,” she said. When the June 23 tribute is past, she said, “A lot of people will be relieved — but there’s still a lot of work to do during the season.”
Former Bluefield Oriole John Wesley “Boog” Powell, who was the American League’s Most Valuable Player while playing for Baltimore in 1970, is scheduled to pay a return visit to Bowen Field on Aug. 18.
Two other popular Bluefield alumni who made it to Baltimore, Dean Chance and Bobby Grich are also planning visits, but McGonagle said, “I do not at this time have confirmed dates.”
The Bluefield staff noted that promotions are displayed on the team’s website, bluefieldorioles.com.
The 50th season will include a 50-player set of baseball cards with statistics; a CD prepared by volunteers with more stats, season records and images; and a limited edition Cal Ripken Jr. bobblehead doll that shows the major league Hall of Famer in a Bluefield Orioles uniform with an anniversary inscription around the figure’s base.
Messenger has been thoroughly impressed with McGonagle’s ability to juggle his responsibilities. “He’s really good at what he does,” she said. “He’s leaving this year, and that’s sad.
“I don’t know how he keeps up with it all. But he doesn’t forget anything. He’s got 10 lists going at a time. He’s a very busy guy; I wouldn’t want to have his hours.”
One gap in the planning as of Tuesday was details about the 2007 team itself. McGonagle said “I know absolutely nothing” about the roster. He is still waiting on the list to be faxed from Florida.
He said he talked last weekend by phone with Bluefield’s new field boss for 2007, Alex Arias, who he said “sounded as though he was very excited about coming. ... He’s heard a lot about Bluefield.”
Jerry Greeley returns for his fifth year in Bluefield and Len Johnston is back for his 19th consecutive season as coach for the team. Newcomers are pitching coach Troy Mattes, field coach James Allen Saul and trainer T.D. Swinford.
— Contact Tom Bone at