Bluefield Baseball History
Baseball in Bluefield, West Virginia is a tradition, played locally in the coalfields long before the Appalachian League was formed. Baseball history can be traced back to 1882 in Bluefield, with the arrival of the Norfolk & Western Railroad.
Professional baseball first originated in Bluefield in 1924, when the Blue-Grays were formed by Fred Fox and Fred Hawley. The Blue-Grays played in the Coalfield League for two years before the league folded. Major League teams made Bluefield a favorite stop on barnstorming railroad exhibition tours. Bluefield was a member of the Blue Ridge League for two seasons and then joined the Class D Mountain State League. The club attracted more than 70,000 fans during its championship year in 1938.
The popularity of the Blue-Grays eventually prompted the construction of a first-rate stadium in City Park alongside the fairgrounds. Bowen Field was dedicated on May 11, 1939. Bowen Field was unique upon its construction, having an all-dirt infield and outfield.
The Boston Braves sponsored the team from 1939 until 1953. The Appalachian League was formed in 1946, and Bluefield promptly joined. The Washington Senators took over the team for the 1954 season, then the Boston Red Sox claimed the team for the following two seasons.
The Appalachian League was temporarily disbanded for one year in 1956. The Brooklyn Dodgers sponsored Bluefield's team when the league started up again in 1957. The Orioles took over in 1958 and maintained the affiliation until 2011. Bluefield's 53-year partnership with Baltimore is the longest such affiliation on record.
Since 1958, about 100 former Bluefield Orioles have played Major League Baseball, and several former managers have managed in the big leagues. Boog Powell, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr., and Don Baylor all began their professional careers in Bluefield.
Until his death in 1995, at age 86, former general manager George Fanning was Bluefield's "Mr. Baseball." Beginning in 1948, Fanning personally supervised the daily care of the field, stadium, and front office. When players' contracts were handled locally, Fanning helped sign Boog Powell to his first professional contract.
A devastating fire destroyed Bowen Field in 1973. The office was the only building untouched by the flames. A new concrete stadium was promptly built as it stands today. Renovations, under the direction of Bluefield Baseball Club President, George McGonagle, have greatly enhanced the complex, with the addition of the tunnel building which houses two batting cages and a weight room. Over $3 million have been spent on Bowen Field improvements since 1989.
Bluefield has won 13 Appalachian League Championships, most recently in 2001. Previous titles were won in 1949, 1950, 1954, 1957, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1982, 1996, 1997 and 2001. Bowen Field is celebrated its 71st Anniversary in 2010.
In 2011, for the first time in 53 years, a new team called Bowen Field home, with Bluefield aligning itself with the Toronto Blue Jays as its new parent club. In its first season, manager Dennis Holmberg led the club into the new era with a 40-28 record and an Appalachian League East Division title.
Professional baseball in Bluefield continues on as a staple tradition in the Two Virginias, with crowds filling the seats of Bowen Field throughout the summer months.