Today ends the 2010 Appalachian League season, and the 53-year affiliation between the Baltimore Orioles and Bluefield, W.Va.
I was lucky enough to cover the team for seven-plus years, from 1988 to 1995. I met former Orioles who I grew up watching, other former major leaguers passing through town to help the new crop and plenty of great fans.
Covering the Orioles allowed me to write for the Baltimore Evening Sun, Baseball America, and assist the writer from Reader's Digest with his article in the June 1994 edition of that famous magazine.
But time moves on. Bluefield hasn't had a winning record since 2003, the year after the Orioles added the Aberdeen Ironbirds to the system. The better first-year players went to Cal Ripken's packed stadium, and Bluefield got the leftovers. Add the Orioles' return to Florida's Gulf Coast League - 18-year-old players under the hot Florida sun with no fans - and there was no more need for Bluefield in the system.
Unfortunately, the Orioles didn't send many good players through Bluefield during my era. While Cleveland had future Hall-of-Famers Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, most Bluefield players who reached the majors lasted just a few games.
But it was great to be part of professional baseball, and hopefully Bluefield will remain home to major league hopefuls for years to come. Even if the Yankees decide to put a team there, I could root for them.