The news this weekend that the O's were ending a 53-season relationship with the Bluefield Orioles hit me harder than most Baltimore fans. See, I became a Baltimore Orioles fan largely because of the Bluefield Orioles. My dad's family is from Bluefield, and we have a long history with the organization. My grandparents were season ticket holders for many, many seasons, my dad and his brother were both batboys for the team, and my uncle currently serves on the club's board of directors; many of our most frequently told family stories revolve around the stands at Bowen Field, especially the grilling my grandfather would give to umpires failing to call the strike zone in favor of the home town team. When I interviewed with the Orioles for my summer internship, I explained my Bluefield connection to illustrate my ties to the organization. Thus, the announcement came as a particularly sharp blow.
No, it probably won't matter for the long-run health of the Major League club whether or not the Baltimore Orioles have an Appalachian League franchise, but every Orioles fan should be just a little bit saddened by this announcement. Bluefield--and towns like it all across America--epitomize the small-town Americana image of minor league baseball. Bluefield, which was the longest-running relationship in affiliated baseball, was still a link to that long-lost "Oriole Way", the idea that a freshly signed draft pick would enter into the organization and learn the same methods and practices that the big leaguers in far-off Baltimore were using in the Major Leagues. I hope Bluefield attracts another big league club to take over its operations, but the city just won't be the same without the Baby Birds.