Princeton Rays versus Bluefield Blue Jays

The Princeton Rays take on the Bluefield Blue Jays during the Mercer Cup Series at Bowen Field in Bluefield, in July of 2019.

BLUEFIELD — The Bluefield Blue Jays and Princeton Rays are two of the teams in minor league baseball that are on the chopping block under a new proposal from Major League Baseball.

The current Professional Baseball Agreement between the MLB and Minor League Baseball expires at the end of the 2020 season and the two sides are in discussions that could alter the minor league baseball landscape.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred have talked and are planning to meet soon to discuss the proposal that would also eliminate the West Virginia Power.

“Minor League Baseball is a critical part of West Virginia’s future,” Justice said. “I am working to find a real solution on this issue, starting at the top with Commissioner Manfred. I am confident we can show Commissioner Manfred what a fantastic partner MLB has in the great state of West Virginia.”

In mid-October it was reported by Baseball America that the Rookie-level Appalachian League would be one of the leagues that would be dropped. The New York Times reported Saturday the 42 teams that would cease to exist including the Jays and P-Rays.

Nine of the 10 teams in the Appalachian League are on the list with the one exception being the Pulaski Yankees who would be placed in a remaining league.

There has been a minor league team in Bluefield for over 70 years and Princeton first got a team in 1988.

The lone West Virginia minor league team that is not on the list to be discontinued is the West Virginia Black Bears.

Along with Justice, other West Virginia political leaders have come out in opposition to the proposal, including U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

“Minor league baseball has become a part of the fabric of many West Virginia towns. I have stressed to both Major League and Minor League Baseball my hope and encouragement to work together and also with the impacted communities and franchises,” Capito said.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., issued a statement Tuesday saying that losing these teams would hurt the communities and people that support them.

“I will do everything I can to protect minor league baseball in West Virginia because many of these teams have been pillars of the community for decades. I’m contacting everyone I know in the MLB to ask them to consider the consequences of scrapping our local teams.”

A bipartisan letter was sent by 106 members of the U.S. House Representatives led by Congressman David McKinley, R-W.Va., to Manfred opposing MLB’s proposal.

The letter was also signed by U.S. Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith. R-W.Va.

The Bluefield Blue Jays have had numerous top players come through including Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2016 and he just completed his rookie season in the major leagues.

Fans in Princeton got to see the current top prospect in baseball Wander Franco in 2018 when he won the Appalachian League Player of the Year.

If the minor leagues teams cease to exist the towns will have the option to participate in a ‘Dream League’ where all the clubs will be composed of players who were not drafted or are free agents.

The main difference would be that all costs would be paid by the local team instead of the MLB club which currently pays the salaries of the players and coaches it sends to affiliates along with other expenses.

The other options would be the have an amateur summer collegiate baseball team that has players from the surrounding area. 

Just a proposal at this stage, these negotiations will likely continue between all parties for the foreseeable future.

“Simply put, these teams have to be preserved for all involved and the goodness of our communities,” Justice said.

— Contact Eric Walker at ewalker@bdtonline.com

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