By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
For 34 days out of the year, fans get to experience rookie-league baseball games at Hunnicutt Field, home of the Princeton Rays. It takes a lot of work to deliver those fans a quality experience.
No one knows that better than the general manager of the Princeton Rays baseball club for the past 22 years, Jim Holland.
“Really, during the season, it’s not unusual to work 90- to 100-hour weeks,” he said earlier this week at the ballpark. “There’s never an off-season. Let’s say in the ‘non-baseball-playing season,’ it’s 70-plus (hours) a week. There’s a lot to it, but I find that people who are doing this occupation really don’t look at the watch.”
Some would tire of handling the many details of running a baseball park year after year, but Holland sees it differently.
“It doesn’t get old, because each game stands by itself as its own entity,” he said. “And that’s the high point, that’s what you work for.”
“We’re not like a baseball player who’s playing games year-round. These 34 (home) games during the professional season for us, this is what we work the other 331 days out of the year for — to get these 34 days, and do the most with them, have fun with them, really get to reunite with a lot of folks that maybe we don’t see from the prior August up to the next June. It’s very special.”
It’s up to the coaches and field manager to get the players ready, physically and mentally, each night. They draw up the strategy and the lineups, and report how the athletes are doing to their baseball bosses. Everything else at the facility is Holland’s responsibility.
The native of Dunbar has been honored as the Appalachian League executive of the year, has received the “Service Above Self” award from Princeton Rotary, and is a former board member of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce.
In five seasons, including the last three straight, he’s been named to receive the league’s Promotional Award of Excellence. He’s very proud that every Princeton home game since the start of the 1992 season has included at least one promotion, discount or giveaway.
He said, “I wouldn’t give any season that we’ve been here an ‘F.’ But you grade ‘em, and you try to learn from ‘em, and be a better student the next year.”
Holland was early in junior high school when his aptitude test advised “I ought to be in marketing,” he said. “And, lo and behold, here I am.”
“I’ve loved sports from the time I was a kid, all along. I watched games on TV; I fixed my own scorecards, hand-made. I’d be out playing somewhere from first thing in the morning until I had to be coaxed to come in at night.”
He fondly remembers attending his first professional baseball game at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.
At Dunbar High School, he was a state finalist in two sports, running the two-mile race in track season and running cross-country. He was the conference champion in the old Tri-Valley Athletic Conference.
He enrolled at the University of Charleston “with the intention of being a sportswriter,” he said. However, he was working in sales in Huntington when he signed on, at the age of 32, with the now-defunct Huntington Cubs in 1990 as a fill-in helper around the ballpark.
The next year, the general manager’s job at Princeton opened up, and Holland interviewed with Princeton civic leaders Jim Thompson and Charlie Pace.
“About three weeks later I was moving to Princeton,” he said. “That’s a doggone long time ago.”
His success has led to inquiries from other baseball operations that could offer bigger salaries in larger cities. Holland has turned them down.
“I’m just in love with the area,” said the West Virginia native. “There have been offers. There was one where the dialog got pretty intense, but in the end, I just couldn’t do it. So, here I am.”
“This just seems like the right fit for me. Since I’ve moved here, I met my wife Judy. We’ve been together a long, long time.”
“A lot of my payment comes when these fans walk out of the gate at night and they’re smiling and they’ve had a good time. Some of these fans I’ve known as long as I’ve been here, for all 22 seasons. So there is a bond. It’s just really been great to be with these people for this many years.”
He knows that promotions get new fans to try out an evening of baseball and can keep them coming back.
“We always like to promote ourselves as value-added,” he said. “They’re getting to walk out here with a quality item such as a T-shirt, and get to be this close to a professional baseball game, and get to visit with each other, and to it for the most minute of expenditure — there’s a lot of accomplishment in that, that we have been able to grow that concept.”
“I’m doing what I need to be doing,” he said. “This is what I was suited to do since grade school, when I was organizing games, even then.”
“Even though I played sports, and enjoyed it, there are people who are never meant to play. It takes a lot of people to make an organization go. All of us have our own niche.”
“It’s meant to be. I’m doing what I should have been doing all along — and I’m where I should be doing it.”
— Contact Tom Bone at firstname.lastname@example.org