Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

June 18, 2010


Opening day closing in for Orioles

BLUEFIELD —  Jim Pettus has long been a follower of the Baltimore Orioles. He’s now in charge of the Bluefield Orioles.

“As a child my grandfather used to live a couple of blocks from Memorial Stadium (in Baltimore) so I have always had a special place in my heart for the Orioles,” Pettus said. “I know they have been off to a little bit of a rough start, but this is where it starts in turning the organization around hopefully.”

Few teams, other than the Pirates, need it more. The Orioles are currently on their way to a 13th straight losing season. Pettus hopes the 2010 edition of the Baby Birds might eventually help to turn those fortunes around.

“There have been some changes in the scouting department and of course we had a managerial change a week or so ago,” Pettus said. “Obviously, they feel like there needs to be some changes to get us back to being a competitive team, that starts with these young guys here that are the future of the Orioles.”

That future begins Saturday when the team arrives in Bluefield. They’ll practice two days and then travel to Pulaski on Tuesday to open the Appalachian League season against the Mariners.

“We’re excited, we get a chance to see some fine young players that are realizing their dreams,” Pettus said. “We’re looking forward to getting them in here and taking care of whatever needs they and the coaches have.”

Following a 10-year career with CASE — Community Action of South Eastern West Virginia — Pettus has taken on a new challenge, replacing Mike Showe as the Orioles’ general manager on Feb. 8.

He’s been busy ever since, learning on the job from former long-time Orioles’ general manager George McGonagle.

“I wasn’t sure how in-depth the role as a general manager here would be, scheduling the hotel reservations for the team, the bus trips, making the decisions about what kind of art work is going to be on our magnet schedules,” Pettus said. “It’s been a lot of fun, I have enjoyed it.

“There have been nights where we have had a high school game here and you have got to get out here and do a lot of the work yourself. It’s not that I am complaining. You just never have a day the same here it seems like, you have a new set of challenges every day.”

Those challenges won’t change as the preparations continue. They’ll actually get a few extra days to complete the task since the Orioles don’t open at home until June 25 with Danville. That is fine with Pettus.

“Absolutely, we need every second we can get,” Pettus said. “Right now it is just so much about facilities and field maintenance, it will just be day to day game operations once we get underway.”

Much of the job is centered around the upkeep of Bowen Field, a facility that has been in use since 1939. It’s still used often, including more than 60 games during the spring for Bluefield College, Bluefield High School and the Coppinger Invitational.

“I feel like we are getting along good, Mike White and his grounds crew have been hard at it,” Pettus said. “We’ve been rolling the field and fertilizing it and just doing all those things to get this field looking good and I feel like it’s starting to shape up real well.”

The team will arrive on Saturday, preceded today by the arrival of Lenny Johnston, the long-time Orioles’ director, whose grandson, Zack, is one of seven interns for Bluefield. The rest of the coaching staff will include manager Einar Diaz — back for a second season — along with pitching coach Larry McCall, Leo Gomez and Jerry Greeley.

Pettus doesn’t expect to have a complete roster of incoming players until Saturday. Fans are urged to visit Bowen Field on Sunday (6 p.m.) and Monday (7 p.m.) for open practice sessions.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to get the (players) a chance to get settled in up at the Mountain View and have a chance to come down here and see the field before we have our cookout,” said Pettus, whose Orioles will host a limited fan gathering for the team on Saturday. “We’re expecting over 200 people.

“We set this up to give our sponsors and box seat holders and people that support the Orioles an opportunity to get close and personal with the players.”

Pettus has also been busy looking for ways to induce fans into the park.

“Promoting and getting the word out and our in-game promotions,” said Pettus, whose Orioles will host their popular fireworks show on July 3. “It will take having a lot of cool little items for the kids that will make them want to come to the game, having good concessions and our staff just taking care of each and every one that comes in here.”

The Orioles could have a few extra games this season. The Appalachian League has expanded its playoffs, meaning the top two teams in each division qualify for the postseason.

While Bluefield has won 14 Appalachian League titles since 1949, the last came in 2001. They haven’t finished second or higher since ‘02.

“To have the opportunity to get a few more games here would give the fans a chance to see some more games and it gives us a chance to run our concessions another few nights,” said Pettus, whose Orioles have also unveiled a new logo. “It is going to create a more exciting atmosphere similar to when they added the wildcard spots in major league baseball.

“I think it was a fantastic idea and hopefully we will be one of those four teams to get in there.”

Pettus hopes to see Bluefield begin to churn out major leaguers like they once did, with such major league alumni as Eddie Murray, Boog Powell, Bobby Grich and Cal Ripken, Jr., having played at Bowen Field.

“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of them be successful here and hopefully get up to Baltimore as quickly as possible,” Pettus said.

The pipeline to Baltimore has slowed in recent years. The last Bluefield Orioles’ product to reach the majors was Brad Bergesen, who pitched in Bowen Field in 2004. Daniel Cabrera, another pitcher, was the previous most recent import, having played in Bluefield in 2002.

“I guess it could be a series of factors, when you are out here scouting and how their development is coming along,” Pettus said. “A lot of it has to do with the players and how bad they want it and are they putting in the work to make themselves a better player and not being satisfied with just getting here, but strive to be the best of the best.”

Opening day is closing in. Pettus is hoping for similar results in the busy days that lie ahead.

“Hopefully it will go very smooth without any roadblocks along the way, I am sure I will be a ball of nerves,” Pettus said. “I am very excited and eager to get it started.

“There is nothing like opening night and hopefully we will have a good crowd here. We’ll be giving out those magnet schedules so hopefully that will increase our participation.

“We’re really just eager to get going and being my first year, I want to get it started so I can see how we go through a game and also see what we need to improve on.”

He also knows the tradition that is continuing in Bluefield, which has had some form of minor league baseball since 1937.

“I want to continue the fine work and history here at Bowen Field because it’s an institution in its own right,” Pettus said. “There is more than 50 years of service with minor league baseball so I am just really excited to hopefully continue on this tradition... 

“We’re just rip roarin’ and ready, that is the main thing.”

—Contact Brian Woodson


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