Meet the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club

Craig Calcaterra
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BLUEFIELD, WV — I had a half-rack of ribs, cole slaw and potato salad midday Sunday, so I wasn’t even remotely hungry when I got to Bowen Field for the Burlington Royals-Bluefield Blue Jays game. But when you’re offered fried chicken, cornbread, baked beans and your choice of homemade cookies and cakes from a bunch of sweet middle-aged West Virginia ladies, well, you make room.

The spread was part of a postgame meal put on by those middle-aged ladies — and a good number of men, I might add — who are members of the Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club. I had never heard of a minor league booster club before. As it was, I only learned about the Blue Jays club by accident when I checked in to the Bluefield Inn, the bed and breakfast where I was staying on Sunday. The owner, Kitt McCarthy, is a Booster Club member and she told me all about it.

On one level, Booster Club members are Bluefield Blue Jays super fans. They all have “Booster Club” shirts, most are season ticket holders and they show up for all of the games (The Bluefield Inn had a “Blue Jays Game Today” sign out front). Beyond that, however, they “adopt” Blue Jays players, inviting them into their homes (just to visit, not to live; they have their own arrangements for that), host social outings, and put on three or four postgame dinners over the course of the season. Dinners like this one, to which McCarthy invited me, with said invitation immediately accepted.

The dinner was for both the Booster Club and for the players, most of whom quickly showered after the game, came upstairs to the community room just behind the first base grandstand and filled up their plates. It was no catered affair. Booster Sandra Malamisura made the fried chicken. Doris Kantor — who I wrote about yesterday — made rum cake that DID NOT skimp on the rum. As I ate I talked to Rocky Malamisura, Sandra’a husband, who also happens to be the Bluefield Blue Jays general manager. Rocky told me that, in the past, he’s done “Thanksgiving in July” dinners where he’d roast a dozen or more 14-pound turkeys and all of the fixings. Since Thanksgiving is, objectively, the best holiday I was rather sad I missed that, but the fried chicken was excellent too.

As I was wolfing down my second piece of rum cake, I tweeted a couple of photos out of the dinner. The response back from some of my followers was at first surprising, but upon a moment’s reflection, quite understandable. It went like this, basically: “it’s really nice that the Booster Club does this for the players, but it’s also a shame that it’s necessary.”

The point being made there is tied up in a topic we’ve talked about quite a bit on this site over the years: minor leaguers are paid miserably, typically eat terribly, are generally treated as cogs in a machine by Major League Baseball teams who can’t even be bothered to pay them a minimum wage and are completely ignored by a player’s union which should do more to help improve their working conditions. “Hey, it’s great that these boys are getting some free chicken,” my followers were saying, “but it’s a shame it takes volunteers to do it when the Blue Jays are owned by a multi-billion dollar media company and could do more if it wanted to.”

I asked a couple of the Boosters about that. They agreed that it can be tough for minor leaguers who don’t come to town with fat bank accounts due to fat signing bonuses, and they acknowledged the observation about major league treatment as minor leaguers as superficially valid. But it’s hard, and unfair I think, to make any reasonable claim of a connection between the miserly ways of Major League Baseball teams when it comes to minor leaguers and what was going on in the community room at Bowen Field Sunday evening.

For one thing, there is no connection at all between the Bluefield Blue Jays and the Toronto Blue Jays apart from the player development affiliation. As the Bluefield Blue Jays GM, Rocky Malamisura is in charge of minor league team business, concessions, ticket sales and game day operations. He has no say in baseball operations, player salaries, training, nutrition or any of that stuff. As such the suggestion, made by some of my followers, that a free meal or three is no substitute for higher salaries for minor leaguers makes little sense. No one in Bluefield can do a thing about that and no one in Toronto is participating in what’s going on in Bluefield. We’re talking about two very different things here that aren’t in any way connected.

More to the point, however, is the fact that neither the purpose of the dinner nor the purpose of any of the Booster Club’s events is to meet players’ economic or nutritional needs. They’re not doing this to pick up slack. The club’s mission, as stated on their Facebook page, is to “help welcome and make Bluefield Blue Jays players and coaches feel at home while they’re in town,” and the Boosters I spoke to view that — and the overall promotion of Bluefield baseball — as their primary purpose. It’s a valid purpose and an important one in and of itself I might add.

Most of these players are between 17 and 20 years-old and a great many of them are mere weeks from leaving their childhood homes. They come from far away places, many from other countries, and have been assigned to a tiny town in the middle of the Appalachian mountains where they know few if any people and may not even know the language. Pitcher Eric Pardinho just got a nearly $2 million signing bonus so I’m sure he can afford three squares a day, but he’s also 17-years-old and is living away from Brazil — Brazil! — for the first time in his life. I’m sure he would enjoy a nice Sunday dinner with people who care about him even if the big club had a full-time chef and nutritionist back in the dorms.

The Bluefield Blue Jays Booster Club is not a charity organization. It’s a community organization. The sort of community which, in an age where minor league teams are increasingly owned by major leagues clubs and/or are being relocated to suburban areas near major cities, is increasingly hard to find on the minor league baseball landscape. After talking to the Boosters, sharing a meal with them and observing their love and affection for the team, its players and the town in which they all live — some permanently, some only until they get called up to Lansing or Vancouver — I fail to see any problem whatsoever. In fact, I see something which should be replicated.

Sandra Malamisura

 

Kitt McCarthy

 

Blue Jays GM Rocky Malamisura

 

 

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.