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Official Review by Paul Swaney, Stadium Journey Co-Founder
Winding through the hills of the border between the state line separating West Virginia from Virginia, you’ll find the little town of Bluefield. Bowen Field is located in Virginia, but is maintained by the Bluefield, West Virginia portion of the city.
The team changed affiliations from the Baltimore Orioles to the Toronto Blue Jays beginning with the 2011 season. Bluefield Blue Jays has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
The Blue Jays are members of the Rookie level Appalachian League. Like many of the ballparks of the Appalachian League, Bowen Field is a no frills experience. The small venue has a capacity of 3,000 and was originally constructed in 1939, although much of what is seen today was part of a reconstruction completed in 1975.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
A burger with BBQ and cheese seems to be the signature item at Bowen Field ($4.50). It sounded like it would be good, but was pretty terrible. Other basics are available including hot dogs ($2), nachos ($1.50), chicken sandwich ($3), and peanuts ($2). Pepsi is the soft drinker provider ($2). Water ($2), coffee ($1), and cocoa ($1) are also on hand. There is no beer served at Bowen Field.
The customer service is very friendly and the prices are low, but unfortunately so is the overall quality. There's enough to sustain you if you are starving, but you are better off choosing another option for a full meal.
Bowen Field is tucked away in a park, making for a very bucolic feel. Center Field offers hitters an ideal batter's eye, as there is nothing but the green trees beyond the outfield wall.
Most of the seating rises high behind home plate, with a covered, albeit leaky, roof. I have read from esteemed sites like BallparkReviews.com that the seats are leftover from an Anaheim Stadium renovation during the 1990's. The bright orange would have worked well when the club was affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles, bit now seems a bit out of place.
The legroom is slightly below average and there are no cupholders. The chairs are mounted fairly low to the rows, making them feel somewhat awkward, especially if you are long-legged. I attended on a rainy afternoon and evening and the cover was certainly appreciated, although you learn quickly where the leaks are.
There's a very basic scoreboard in right center field which displays only the line score. While not ideal, it gets the job done and fits in well with the simple presentation of the game.
Bluefield, Virginia is known as "Virginia's Tallest Town." You will likely cross the border between Virginia and West Virginia several times as you explore the area around the ballpark. The two nearest restaurants if you would like a bite to eat are Ryan's Steak and La Fiesta Mexican Grill, both about a mile from Bowen Field. If you travel a bit further you'll find downtown Bluefield, VA, although there is little to note, except a Dairy Queen if you're looking for some ice cream.
Downtown Bluefield, WV is similarly sparse. The town's mayor once tried to brand itself as the "Pittsburgh of the South," but the Great Depression put a stop to any dream of being a boom town. Today, most people think of Birmingham, Alabama when that moniker is used.
Bluefield's Paint the Train exhibit was on display in Chicory Square, as well as some information about the history of the town of Bluefield.
Further afield, the Mercer Mall is a good place to spend some time shopping, catching a movie, or grabbing a meal at Macado's, although I found cleanliness to be an issue during my visit to this restaurant.
For a game that was eventually called off due to rain, I was pretty impressed with the fans I encountered during my visit. For one, they sat through two hours of rain delay, and I didn't see one person leave before the game was called. When a community has had minor league baseball continuously for over 60 years (with the exception of the 1956 season), you know there is some loyalty from the patrons.
Parking is free, and there is plenty of it. Be careful not to park too close to the field however as foul balls can easily reach the parking lot of the third base side. I recommend parking at least 15 spots away from the box office, just to keep your car safe from harm.
Restrooms could certainly use an upgrade. The facilities are outdated and my experience with the restroom was accompanied by an unpleasant odor.
Concessions are located near the main entrance, so once you're in your seat you'll have to descend a large ramp. It's only a minor inconvenience however.
The most expensive ticket is $5. Parking is free. A hot dog and a Pepsi will cost you $4 total. All told, you can experience a minor league baseball game for under $10. That's a good deal, and priced right for what you'll be getting with Bowen Field. I look forward to returning on a sunny day to see if that improves my overall impression, but this particular visit left me wishing for a better overall experience.
Any ballpark where Cal Ripken Jr. once called the playing field home is worth an extra point in my book. The Iron Man spent the 1978 season in Bluefield. In 63 games he batted .264 and did not hit a home run. Future MLB Orioles Larry Sheets and John Shelby also played on that squad. The man who would break Lou Gehrig's record missed playing in seven of the team's 70 games.
For those craving some old school baseball simplicity, then you very well may find it hidden in the hills of Bluefield. Bowen Field has history, but the overall experience falls a little flat.
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504 Commerce Dr
Bluefield, VA 24605
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