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Baseball documentary bringing national attention to Bluefield and Princeton


BLUEFIELD — The cities of Bluefield and Princeton will be getting some national attention Wednesday courtesy of a new documentary airing on the Viceland Network.

A well-known face at Bowen Field. Bluefield Blue Jays fan Henry Belcher yells during an Appalachian League game at the state line ballpark last season in this image from the trailer of the program “Rivals: The Mercer Cup.”
(Viceland image)

The documentary, called “Rivals: The Mercer Cup,” will air as part of the “Vice World of Sports” series. A film crew spent several days last summer filming in Bluefield and Princeton, both in and outside of the ballparks. In fact, a trailer for the new documentary showcases not only Bowen Field in Bluefield and Hunnicutt Field in Princeton, but also downtown Princeton, the Mercer County Courthouse, the historic Pocahontas Exhibition Mine and other local attractions.

“They were here the whole summer spending time between Bluefield and Princeton,” George McGonagle, president of the Bluefield Baseball Club, Inc., said. “So I’m very hopeful. The only thing I know is we’ve not had any contact with them in Bluefield since they left here, and I just sort of wondered where it stood.”

The documentary will premiere Wednesday night at 10:30 p.m. on the Viceland Network. It will repeat at 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Thursday morning. The network can be viewed on channel 121 on Dish Network, channel 1271 on Comcast Cable and on channel 419 on Suddenlink Cable.

The episode will be an opportunity to showcase to a national audience the unique attraction of having two Minor League Baseball teams in neighboring cities, said Mori Williams, who served as the president of the Princeton Baseball Association when the film crew was in town.

“From what I understand rarely do you have two Minor League Baseball teams that are located this close,” Williams said. “It is really a unique thing in Minor League Baseball to have the kind of rivalry we have. I think it will — and I hope — it will bring a lot of positive attention to Mercer County, and both baseball teams.”

Jamie Null, executive director of the Mercer County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, said the CVB and the West Virginia Film Office worked to accommodate the film crew while they were in town last summer.

“We do work hand-in-hand with the West Virginia Film Office when they send us requests,” Null said. “I just went and met them, and asked if they needed anything. We assisted them with restaurants, recommendations and finding a photographer. We are always excited when our area gets attention on the national level.”

Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office, said the Viceland Network contacted the film office for help with the filming of the Rivals series.

“We worked closely with Jamie Null of the Mercer County CVB to help with, among other things, ensuring that the mayors’ offices and police departments of both cities were aware of the filming, especially since a drone would be used,” Haynes said. “When productions capture the beauty of West Virginia, along with a great local rivalry story, it’s an opportunity to show to a national audience not only the value of doing business in West Virginia, but also the activities available for residents and tourists alike. Also, word-of-mouth among the film industry is important for returning to the state for future business. As Kevin Lewis of Vice said, ‘West Virginia is becoming my favorite place to shoot!’ “

While the trailer for the documentary does make reference to a region that “is struggling to keep the lights on,” the city of Bluefield is still hopeful that the documentary will present a positive image of the region, Jim Spencer, Bluefield’s Community and Economic Development Coordinator, said.

“I had met the guys at the ballpark,” Spencer said. “They mentioned they had been downtown at the rail yard. You never know when someone does a story like this how they will make an area reflect. A lot of times the purpose of a trailer is to just pique interest and make people tune in. There are a lot of positive things going on in the area. I’m an optimist. If I wasn’t I wouldn’t be here.”

“I saw the trailer — it looks positive to me,” Bluefield City Manager Dane Rideout added. “We are very excited that they are capturing the excitement of a Minor League Baseball team that we have residing in our city. It is one of those bright and shiny spots that shows why Bluefield is a special place to live, work and play.”

Keith Circle, executive assistant of the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, said the importance of having two Minor League Baseball teams in the region can’t be overstated.

“From the standpoint of the chamber of the commerce, the economic impact that the Minor League Baseball teams have on our community and the fact that we have two of them in our county is a great asset to our community, our county and our economy,” Circle said. “From the standpoint of the chamber of commerce, we look at it that way in terms of giving our community a recreational thing in addition to bolstering the local economy.”

Last summer was the 25th anniversary of the Mercer Cup series, according to former long-time Princeton Rays General Manager Jim Holland.

“Just from looking at the trailer, I think it will paint a positive image for the fan base of both cities,” Holland said. “I’m just waiting to see the finished product. This series is called Rivals. I have watched some of the others they have produced. They seem to be professionally done, and represent the subjects very well.”

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