PRINCETON — Baseball fans geared up for this year’s upcoming Appalachian League with the Meet the Rays event on Saturday.

At the event, guests could meet this year’s Princeton Devil Rays team and welcome them to the city. With all of the players being brand new to the team and minor league baseball, this is the first time in West Virginia for many of the players.

Of the players, first baseman, Mason Mallard, 23, is looking forward to his first minor league season. Having played baseball since he was five years old, Mallard has immersed himself in the sport.

Amidst signing baseballs for eager boys and girls, Mallard said he has enjoyed the enjoyable weather of West Virginia, compared to scorching Louisiana. “I just came from spring training in Port Charlotte. There’s a lot more fair weather here than Louisiana,” Mallard said.

Coming from Lousiana Tech, Mallard said with eagerness, “I’m ready to get started.”

Team manager, Danny Sheaffer is hoping for a good season. “To say we’re going to be good, is short-sighted,” Sheaffer said, “The goal is to be playing better in August than we are now.”

According to Sheaffer, this year’s players are all new to the Princeton Rays. “It’s the introduction to professional baseball for a lot of these guys and it’s a roll of the dice but we come prepared,” Sheaffer said.

For the players, this season will also be a learning experience for them to learn the world of minor league baseball. Having just come into Princeton a few days ago, players are still learning the area as well.

As for the importance and benefit of having a minor league team in a small community, Sheaffer said, “I think it’s priceless for every community in this league as far as an introduction to professional baseball and for the joy and entertainment value. I think communities don’t really value all that until it’s not there anymore.”

So far this years team consists of 26 players, though they will be adding more, Sheaffer said. “This is the first time these guys get to lay their head on the pillow at night and know they get paid to play the game they love,” Sheaffer said.

Baseball fans, and players themselves, cousins Andrew Meredith, 12, and Ryan French, 11, of Pearisburg, Va., enjoyed meeting this year’s Rays. Meredith, a third baseman and French, a utility, met the Rays and asked them to sign their baseballs.

The Rays encouraged the cousins to follow their dreams of the sport and continue to work hard. The younger generation, excited and a bit star struck, left the event excited for this year’s upcoming Appalachian League.

Contact Emily D. Coppola at ecoppola@bdtonline.com

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