Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 4, 2014

Seven month wait about over, West Virginia, Virginia Tech on diamond Tuesday

PRINCETON — Call it Border Ball, with a rivalry between two collegiate rivals being rekindled on the diamond.

The West Virginia baseball team will travel to Princeton’s Hunnicutt Field on Tuesday to face Virginia Tech in a much-anticipated contest between the two long-time rivals, no matter what sport is in season.

This time is it baseball.

“It is going to be interesting, we are excited,” said Jim Holland, the general manager of the Princeton Rays. “It has been the talk of this area since it was announced on Oct. 8, and now we have less than 72 hours to go.”

West Virginia (25-17), which saw its seven game losing skid snapped on Saturday with a loss to Texas, will serve as the host team, while the Hokies (18-27) have lost 10 in a row after losing for a second straight time to Georgia Tech.

Holland is excited to have those clubs coming to Mercer County and the summer-time home of the Princeton Rays.

“When they were looking to locate in southern West Virginia this deep in the southern part of the state,” Holland said, “they made it very clear that Princeton was their first choice all along.”

No matter what the records in whatever the sport, there is a certain edge when West Virginia and Virginia Tech meet, and Holland is excited to bring that rivalry to Princeton.

“Obviously, if we are going to host a Division I college baseball game, these would be the very top teams we would want in it,” Holland said. “It is a dream match-up.

“It is not often in a neutral site game that you get your biggest regional rivals in the same matchup. Yes, we are excited about it. The phone has been ringing off the hook. We are anxious for Tuesday to get here.”

With an expected sellout crowd of 1,900 spectators expected to fill  Hunnicutt Field for the game, Holland said the preparation for the event has been much like getting ready for the Appalachian League that begins in late June.

“Obviously we are doing all the things we do to get ready for the Appalachian League season,” Holland said. “That is really an advantage for us. Some of the things we have to wait until June to do, we can get some of those things out of the way.”

Holland has been told by WVU officials in Morgantown that the baseball program has never had this particular kind of early sales for a game.

While 1,900 spectators will be squeezed into the facility, some will have to stand along the fences along the right and left field lines, which was stipulated as a possibility when the general admission tickets were sold.

“I believe more could have been sold by both ourselves, our local operators and WVU, but they didn’t want to seat too many which could make for a bad fan experience,” Holland said.

That isn’t an option for Holland, who is very proud of his product in Princeton, and would like to make such a positive impression that the event might return in the future.

“This is a West Virginia University home game, they will be the home team,” Holland said. “It is a West Virginia University event.

“The best thing we can do for ourselves as operators and our fans is to yell loud and show that this is a good place for Division I baseball. This will be a proving ground on Tuesday night.”

If all goes well, Holland thinks West Virginia and Virginia Tech on the diamond could become a yearly event right here in Mercer County.

“We feel like it,” he said. “There has already been some talk to see how this goes and possibly turn this into an annual thing.”

As for what to expect from the teams, such as who will take the mound for either team, that remains to be seen.

“Baseball is a different sport. The talent level is always pretty much the same,” Holland said. “It is not like football where you play once a week.

“You don’t know who will pitch for each side, it could be the ace or someone lower in the rotation, it all depends on how the dominos fall. We will have to wait and see.”

Parking is limited around Hunnicutt Field, but Holland feels sure fans won’t mind finding area lots and walking to the game. Concession stands will be available, and the Princeton Rays will have its souvenir stand open selling P-Rays’ merchandise and season tickets for the upcoming Appalachian League season.

The game will be webcast on both the West Virginia and Virginia Tech websites, and both school’s radio networks will be broadcasting from the field.

“It is a little bit of a different cup of tea. After working for 23 years of professional baseball team, college baseball is a little different.” Holland said. “There are certain restrictions and rules, but variety is the spice of life. This has added a little bit of spice in the step of everybody involved with this. We have all been excited since this was announced on Oct. 8.”

The first pitch on Tuesday is slated for 6 p.m. While it hasn’t been officially announced, it is expected to be sold out.

“We are just looking forward to a really unique evening,” Holland said. “It is kind of interesting, it is here on Saturday night now and this game is just 72 hours away...

“We just hope everybody that comes to the game will have a good time. It is a very unique sporting event opportunity for this area.”

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at bwoodson@bdtonline.com or Twitter @bdtwoodson.

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