Bluefield clinches Appy East crown

Blue Jays beat rival Braves on second-to-last day of season

First baseman Art Charles leads Bluefield with 59 RBIs in 67 games. (Tony Farlow/

By Robert Emrich / Special to | August 29, 2011 7:39 PM

The Blue Jays' first season in the Appalachian League could not have gone better.

Nicholas Purdy allowed one hit over four shutout innings out of the bullpen and Art Charles doubled home a run as Bluefield defeated Danville, 5-1, to clinch the East Division title.

Purdy (1-0) entered the game in relief of starter Ajay Meyer, who allowed a run on one hit over the first two innings. The Blue Jays' 36th-rounder in 2010 retired the first six batters he faced before allowing a leadoff single in the fifth to Kurt Fleming. Overall, Purdy walked two and struck out two to earn the win.

"Nick came up from the Gulf Coast League about a week ago, and he pitched very well tonight," manager Dennis Holmberg said. "He threw strikes, he repeated his delivery, had his command and had two, three pitches going for him."

The Blue Jays moved into Bluefield after the Orioles ended their 52-year relationship with the town. Holmberg said winning in an area with a rich baseball tradition goes a long way to swaying people's allegiances.

"I'm a people person. I care about the players and the people in the community," he said. "It was very difficult to go into Bluefield after 52 years of Orioles history and change the opinion of the Blue Jays. They are die-hard fans and I can understand what baseball means to the community."

Holmberg had spent the previous nine season managing the Auburn Doubledays in the short-season New York-Penn League. Moving to the Appalachian League, the 60-year-old took home Manager of the Year honors while giving Bluefield its first winning team since 1997.

"It means a lot, but it comes from the players," the veteran skipper said. "It's the players that steer the ship and get the job done. You try to point them in the right direction. I'm honored by the recognition and we'll continue to move forward."

Charles continued his outstanding season, collecting his team-leading 59th RBI and scored a run. Holmberg praised the 2010 20th-rounder as well as Chris Hawkins, whose hitting streak ended at five games after he went 0-for-4.

"Art's been kind of a sleeper guy all year," he said. "We have two guys who have driven in 100 runs combined. Chris has been an unsung hero in this lineup, and I'm very happy with their progress."

The Appalachian League playoffs begin Wednesday. Bluefield joins Elizabethton and Johnson City as clubs that have clinched playoff berths, with one spot remaining heading into the season's final game Tuesday.

Robert Emrich is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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