Princeton Baseball Association pledges no future blown saves – Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Dropping the ball is never a good thing in baseball.

Don’t expect the Princeton Baseball Association to allow it to happen again. They have seen the error of their ways. 

“We are looking at the future. We are taking the position that you and I will be standing here next year talking about 2018 because they are going to be here,” said Dewey Russell, who is now serving his second stint as president of the Princeton baseball club.

 “That is my goal, that is our board’s goal, that is our advertiser’s goal, that is our supporter’s goal.”

Rumors had persisted for months that professional baseball in Princeton could cease to exist when the current contract with Tampa Bay ended after last season.

“Sure there were doubts,” said Russell, who said that longtime board member Bobby Choate is serving as interim general manager for the Rays. “You never know year to year.” 

There were legitimate concerns. Despite the P-Rays advancing to the Appalachian League playoffs for a second year in a row, attendance at Hunnicutt Field plummeted to a league-worst average of 457. While people in the seats aren’t as important as facilities, such as a top-of-the-line playing surface, it was certainly a concern to Russell, who had previously served a club president from 1992-2010. 

“It was terrible. There is no question about it. One guy told me when you get out of the car there is no atmosphere. It is just blah,” Russell said. 

“We dropped the ball, not Tampa, not the Appalachian League, we did it internally, we are not throwing anybody under the bus,” he said.

“There is nothing we can do about what happened yesterday. We are going to build on what baseball is all about and we are going to get the fans back out. We are going to do things, we are going to paint this town blue.

“We had challenges last year, but we are going to bring it back this year with enthusiasm. In years past our attendance usually hung around a thousand. That is our responsibility…

“This is all about community. Once you are in the stands you can sit around and shoot the bull, it is just really a fun evening. We want to bring the atmosphere back so when you come in you feel like this is a baseball stadium. I don’t care how old it is, how new it is, you have got to maintain it. Anything will fall in disarray if you don’t pay attention to it, and we didn’t play attention to it the last couple of years, but we are back and we are back strong.”

Russell, who learned that the Rays would return during the recent holidays, said the current contract would be extended for the upcoming season, which begins on June 22 in Pulaski, with plans to grow a relationship that first began with Tampa Bay in 1997.

“Right now we are dealing with our current contract, we are going to extend it. They are not telling us that this is it and then we are going to turn up and leave. Another thing is we had to get something done and the quickest thing to do was to extend it and then we will work on next year,” said Russell, who added that during three Saturdays in December, the P-Rays sold plenty of season tickets and merchandise from its team shop. 

“There was no problem with it. (Tampa Bay) set the schedule, they named the field staff, we are taking the position they are going to be here a long time. It is ours to lose and we kind of fell asleep at the wheel, there is no doubt about that. I am not going to try to sugar coat that. This is serious stuff for them…”

The same goes for Russell, who wants the residents of Mercer County to understand just how fortunate they are to have minor league baseball to support. 

“I think sometimes people take situations for granted. Obviously in the world today you can’t take anything for granted and especially in this developmental Appalachian League…,” said Russell, who contends that many Mercer County residents still don’t realize the baseball played at Hunnicutt Field is professional and not of the semi-pro or American Legion variety. “There is excitement here, there is excitement in the city. We are excited about it. We just fell asleep at the wheel so to speak. We kind of lost our edge for a short period of time, but it is back.

“We are anticipating a great year this year. We have had Tampa, this will be our 21st year. We actually had Tampa here a year before the big league team started and we want to keep them for as long as they want to be here. We hope another 20 or 30 years, way past my time.

No sport is more more proud of its history than baseball, but Russell isn’t looking back. 

“I am not thinking about the past, we are treating this like it is Princeton’s first year,” said Russell, a 41-year veteran of the banking business, who has also served as mayor of Princeton in the past. “There is nothing I can do about yesterday, there is nothing I can do about this past season. 

“What I have got to focus on and with me and the board of directors and you and the rest of the media and our community, we have got to focus on what is in front of us…

“We are excited. We were challenged. I am not sugar coating it, we were between the crosshairs, but we looked down the barrel and we are going to come back strong.”

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