And the first shall be last...

A Rampage base runner gets a hand on home plate during a Bases Loaded League summer baseball game with the Panthers held at Bowen Field at Peters Park in Bluefield, on July 6. Bluefield Baseball Club has suspended Bases Loaded play at Bowen Field in light of the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Mercer and Tazewell counties.

BLUEFIELD — The Bases Loaded Summer League brought at least some of the familiar sounds of baseball back to Bowen Field last month. But now the historic Appalachian League ballpark has grown silent once again. At least for now.

Concerns about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in Mercer County, WVa. and Tazewell County, Va. prompted Bluefield Baseball Club, which operates the ballpark, to suspend Bases Loaded play for the time being. 

“Bluefield Baseball Club ... we worry so much about our fan base and the community, our staff and the players. With this spike that we’ve seen in the surrounding region and the number of deaths that have occurred, we felt it was best to suspend those games right now and see where it ends up,” said Bluefield Blue Jays General Manager Rocky Malimasura.

Bases Loaded Summer League games, which started play in Gardner on June 29 and made its first appearance at Bowen Field on July 6, was originally scheduled to play through August 15.  That would leave 10 to 12 games unplayed.

“At least we were able to provide a safe venue to that point,” said Malimasura.

Baseball at the highest level has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, even proving disruptive to the extremely short season put together by Major League Baseball that has been playing to empty stadiums across the country. The Miami Marlins clubhouse COVID-19 outbreak garnered headlines last week and the St. Louis Cardinals are apparently the most recent team to experience a team outbreak. 

All minor league baseball — including the Appalachian League, in which the rookie-level Bluefield Blue Jays compete — was canceled for the duration of the 2020 season.

Ironically, the Toronto Blue Jays — with whom the Bluefield Jays are affiliated — has been prohibited by Canadian government health officials from competing at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, or anywhere in Canada, for that matter.

Malimasura said Bluefield Baseball Club’s decision about suspending Bases Loaded play had nothing to do with national or international developments in Major League Baseball. The decision was based entirely upon concerns at the local level.

“It didn’t have anything to do with [the majors], it was a response by the Bluefield Baseball Club to the regional spike in COVID and was a case of trying to do the responsible thing at this point,” said Malimasura, who hasn’t discounted re-booting Bases Loaded for its final games if conditions warrant.  “Now we’ll just sit back and watch the numbers and see where we end up.” 

In addition to serving as the home field of the Bluefield Blue Jays, Bowen Field is also the home ballpark of the Bluefield College Rams baseball team. Bluefield College football players started arriving on the Bluefield, Va. campus on Friday and other student-athletes are expected to arrive this week. Nearby Bluefield State has also regularly used Bowen Field for home baseball games and student-athletes begin arriving this month as well. 

Malimasura said Bluefield Baseball Club will pay close attention to how these new arrivals affect the number of local COVID-19 cases in Bluefield.

“You have two colleges in the area that are just now starting to bring athletes back into the area. I know that they are diligently testing, right now. So you’re looking for at least two weeks for those kids to get settled in and see where they line out,” Malimasura said.

“But the biggest thing is, just the local numbers prior to this. We felt it was best to go ahead and suspend. If we can do some stuff in the fall, and do it safely and according to protocol, we will do it.”

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