BLUEFIELD — A new description has been added to the designation of historic Bowen Field.
A banner, stretching almost the entire length of the Coppinger Room at the ballpark, was unfurled at a ceremony on Thursday evening, documenting the “Charles A. Peters Baseball Park.”
Peters, the 94-year-old honoree of the day, smiled with surprise as a capacity crowd applauded.
“We’re playing baseball at Bowen Field at Peters Park from now on,” said master of ceremonies David Kersey, a member of the board of the Bluefield Baseball Club which operates the city-owned facility. Kersey said the city had endorsed the addition to the name.
Charles and Dafney Peters provided funding for major renovations that have been going on this spring at the field. Attendees on Thursday could look out of the windows of the meeting room and see the new Northern Latitude Bermuda grass covering the infield, its roots soaking in nutrients during yet another spring rainstorm.
Less visible, but already open for inspection on Thursday, were the renovations to the home and visiting clubhouses and to the batting shell building. The first stages of expansion of the office and ticket booth began just this week.
“They’re beautiful renovations (that) this ballpark has needed for a long time,” Kersey said.
The room was full of attendees of what had been publicly announced as a Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours social function. It turned into quite a surprise party.
The Major League Baseball franchise that fields its Appalachian League franchise at the ballpark, the Toronto Blue Jays, was represented by Charlie Wilson, the team’s director of minor league operations.
“To tell you how important this facility is for us in an understatement,” Wilson said. “On behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays, we want to thank the Peters, Charles and Dafney, for their great gift and their great support ... . We’re ecstatic, and very appreciative, and very excited, going forward.”
He presented Charles Peters with a Blue Jays jersey with Peters’ name and the number 1 on it. He also gave Peters a congratulatory letter from Toronto CEO Mark A. Shapiro.
Kersey said that a brass plaque in appreciation for the Peters’ gift will be installed in a prominent place in the ballpark.
“This just means the world to us,” said Dafney Peters.
Kersey asked Charles Peters, who has attended baseball games at the ballpark since 1956, if he wanted to make any public remarks to the attendees.
“I don’t need to,” he said quietly.
Kersey explained that the baseball club is “a nonprofit organization operated by a volunteer, unpaid board of directors. It’s our job to keep the park open, keep the lights on and keep a professional baseball team on the field. We couldn’t do that without the strong and ongoing support of this city.”
The ongoing revenue generated by the club barely meets minimum operating costs, Kersey said. The city helps with everyday maintenance, and Kersey added that the Hugh I. Shott Jr. Foundation and the Skewes Family Foundation have made significant donations.
“It’s always, at best, a break-even proposition,” he said. “When it comes to capital improvements, there is no money. We have to go search for it.”
Nonetheless, the baseball club board sat down last year and put together “a wish list,” Kersey said, “a vision of what we need to do to improve this ballpark.”
After the board had considered the most-needed projects for awhile, Kersey said he heard a voice coming from near where club president George McGonagle was seated. The voice, Kersey said, “came from the side, in sort of a quiet whisper. Someone said, ‘George, I’ll take care of that.’ And that man was Charlie Peters.”
Kersey said that Peters is “a longtime, tireless volunteer for our board. He’s always been there. He’s a hard worker, (and) it turns out, a very generous individual.”
“We never thought that it (the renovation) was going to happen, but it is happening,” Kersey said. “Volunteerism is alive and well in this community, and is exhibited here at this baseball park.”
McGonagle expressed his thanks for the work of the 13-member baseball club board. He added, “Without the community support we’ve had over the years, we wouldn’t be near where we are today.”
He said work to improve Bowen Field has been “an ongoing thing since 1989. Now we’re in our second phase.”
Bluefield mayor Tom Cole, speaking to the crowd, thanked Peters and pitched the need for continued support of the baseball field and its Appy League team.
“We’ve got to use it, we’ve got to embrace it,” Cole said. “We don’t want to look back on this someday as one of those things we used to (have). This is one of those things we’ve got to support — this incredible regional asset to our communities.”
Asked about the importance of the ballpark to the public, Charles Peters said, “They can’t do without it.”
McGonagle said the value of the Peters’ gift is “between $400,000 and $500,000 ... and very possibly could go higher.”