Bluefield Orioles

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1958-2010

 

The Bluefield Orioles of Bluefield, Virginia and Bluefield, West Virginia, played a remarkable 53 consecutive seasons in the Appalachian League. For over half a century, they served as a low-level (Class D and Rookie) affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The “Baby Birds” (also called the “Baby O’s”) hatched in 1958, when the former Bluefield Dodgers linked up with the Baltimore Orioles, who were only a few years removed from their relocation from St. Louis.

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1964. If only we could see that sleeve patch better.

The Baby Birds made their nest at Bowen Field, a New Deal/WPA project that is part of the city park of Bluefield, West Virginia. However, the field itself is completely over the border and a part of Bluefield, Virginia. Thus, if one team can claim to be from two states, this is it.

In the prior-to-the-Upheaval years, the Appy League was considered a Class D League, though in 1963, the designation became what is to this day–Advanced Rookie. In those early, Class D days of the Baby O’s, they functioned as the first professional team for many key cogs of Baltimore’s late sixties/early seventies dynasty, including Boog Powell and Mark Belanger.

Many future stars  developed in Bluefield in the later sixties and seventies, with the two big-name Hall of Famers being Cal Ripken Jr. (1978) and Eddie Murray (1973). img_7479.jpgOther notables include Sparky Lyle, Bobby Grich, Don Baylor, and Mike Boddicker. After that golden period, there was a dearth of big names. Armando Benitez came through in the nineties, but if he’s the biggest name of the decade, that’s not saying much. It didn’t help matters that in 2002, Ripken himself bought a team at the Short-Season A level, and landed the IronBirds in Aberdeen, Maryland. Baltimore was highly incentivized to send their top low-level talent next door rather than in Bluefield. Zach Britton is probably the biggest name to pass through in the post-IronBirds era. For what it’s worth, NFL quarterback Joe Flacco’s brother Mike played with the team in 2009.

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As is standard practice in the Appy League, the Baby Birds’ visual aesthetic closely mirrored that of their parent club. Though few clear images exist from the first few decades of the Baby O’s, it appears that the uniforms were essentially carbon copies of Baltimore’s–possibly even hand-me-downs. When the parent club switched to the cartoon bird logo, so did Bluefield. Likewise when Baltimore switched to the anatomically-correct bird logo in 1989. In the nineties, the Baby Birds branched out a bit and used their full primary logo on their caps–a logo that featured the Baltimore logo with Bluefield superimposed on the script underline.

In the Appalachian League, identities tend to go out with a whimper (er…cheep?) rather than a bang. Following the 2010 season, the long flight came to an end when Baltimore did not renew their PDC with the Baby O’s, and another bird came along to claim the nest. An appropriate match for the place name, the Bluefield Blue Jays took flight in 2011.

 

 

Ephemera

 

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’73 Baby Birds in front of lush Bowen foliage. Eddie Murray is in there somewhere–middle row, third from left?
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Mike Boddicker’s signature is outstanding.
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The Ironbird’s pro debut
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Looking thrilled to be in the Appy League
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WV or VA?

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Mike Flacco. An elite brother?

 

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