Saying goodbye to Bluefield

The news became official on Saturday.

After 53 years as the Bluefield Orioles' parent club - the current longest running relationship between a minor league team and a Major League organization - the Orioles are moving on.

The O's will leave Bluefield, which first hosted an O's farm team in 1958. The Orioles, who have had three short-season teams, are cutting back to a more workable two clubs.

It was a hard day for Tripp Norton, the Orioles assistant director of player development.

He's been going to Bluefield since 1998, his first season with the Orioles. Over time, this was more than just his job. Friendships were forged and he got to know Bluefield well.

Norton represented the Orioles at the press conference with the local Bluefield media where the O's decision to leave was announced.

"It was a very emotional day. I've been going to Bluefield for 13 years. I've had a good relationship with (team president) George McGonagle and the board of directors there and it was tough to deliver that news.

"The decision we made, I think, is the best for the future of our franchise, but all the while you can't help but think about all the people it will affect back there. Doing the press conference with their local media was tough, trying to fight back some emotions and answer all their questions.

"Bluefield is a great town. There are actually two Bluefields, it sits right on the Virginia-West Virginia state line. In fact, the front office is in West Virginia and the stadium is in Virginia.

"It has one of the best hitting backgrounds in all of baseball with a mountain that sits in right center field. It's a good backdrop for the players and fans."

Norton said, as expected, some of the local fans took the news hard.

"Once the news got out, at first there was shock and then that graduated to sadness where kind of we all are right now."

Even though the roster would change every June, Norton said the fans of Bluefield always seemed to form a strong bond with the team there.

"They are very loyal and very passionate and know their baseball. It's a close-knit community that takes a sense of pride in doing things for the players.

"They have a great booster club there that does a lot for the players. There is a strong connection there between the players and fans," he said.

There will definitely be minor league baseball in Bluefield next summer. The team will remain a member of the Appalachian League.

While the Orioles fully expect another Major League team to take over Bluefield, if, somehow that doesn't happen, the O's would field a team there until another club moves in.

"We would continue to field a team in Bluefield in the event that one is not found this off season. There will be baseball in Bluefield hopefully for many years to come."

The Orioles made their announcement public when they did so everyone in baseball would know Bluefield is looking for another parent club and they hope their announcement on Saturday will serve to speed up that process.

The O's decision could have made Norton a target of criticism on Saturday. But he said that was not the case at all.

"In meeting with the board of directors, I expected to face a lot more criticism than I did. They were very supportive and understanding along with being very sad.

"They are classy people. George even said 'I tried to find something to say negative about Baltimore, but I can't do it.' That really sums up the people and fans of Bluefield."

So later tonight, the Orioles will host Princeton in a doubleheader to end their season and the Orioles 53-year run in Bluefield.

"I think it will be a very emotional night with one last chance for the fans to see the team and say goodbye. It will take on a special meaning."

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