On the Road: Old Becomes New in Pulaski

To see all posts from my July 2 visit to the Pulaski Yankees, click HERE. To see all my posts from my June/July 2016 Appalachian League Road Trip, click HERE. To see all my “On the Road” posts, click HERE. If interested in seeing posts covering a visit to a particular team, search for that team’s name in the blog search bar (it’s to your right).

After the 2014 season, Pulaski’s Appalachian League franchise was in dire straits, and I don’t mean Mark Knopfler’s best known musical project. The franchise had money for nothin’, including much-needed stadium improvements for 80-year-old Calfee Park. The Mariners severed their affiliation when their season ended, and the future looked bleak. Perhaps Pulaski, a longtime Appy League market, would no longer serve as a breeding ground for future sultans of swat.

A dramatic turnaround soon occurred, however, when two local businessmen bought the team and ballpark and spent over $4 million on stadium improvements (and opened a new team hotel, the Jackson Park Inn, in close proximity to the ballpark). The Yankees hopped on board as a new affiliate, and in each of the last two seasons Pulaski has led the league in attendance. For much more on this impressive revitalization, read my MiLB.com article.

I’m a VIP no matter what I do, so of course I had a VIP parking pass. While this pass netted me a good — nay, great — parking space, it also led me to enter the ballpark via this nondescript entrance.

img_0060Really, you’re better off entering via the fortress-like outfield entrance, which gives a much better sense of Calfee Park’s WPA-era roots. This ballpark, built in 1935, is one of the oldest in Minor League Baseball.

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Calfee Park is located in a residential area, so parking really is scarce. It also makes fireworks shows an impossibility. The team has its own trolley — originally the Lady Rebecca, rechristened the Yankee Express — which transports fans who had to park in more far-flung locations.

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Upon entering the stadium, I was greeted by mascot Calf-E.

img_0062I also ran into dedicated Minor League ballpark traveler Dean Packer, who I last crossed paths with at a West Virginia Black Bears game. He may not look it, but check out his wristband. Dean is over 21.

img_0063I also crossed paths with J.W. Gravely, who covers the Pulaski Yankees (and more) for 27outs.com.

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I also said hello to two of the Calfee Girls, a new addition to the ballpark’s entertainment landscape.
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Meeting the above individuals, combined with the hospitality of general manager Blair Hoke, immediately made Calfee Park seem like a welcoming place. Persistently rainy weather most certainly put a damper on the walk-up sales, but a decent crowd was filing in for some Saturday evening Appy League baseball.

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This Wall of Fame illustrates Calfee Park’s long baseball history, and also illustrates how often I am driven to distraction while putting these blog posts together. Did you know? Everett Fagan, the first player who competed at Calfee Park to make the Major Leagues, went 2-7 over 38 appearances with the Philadelphia Athletics. He’s no longer among the living.

img_0070The concession stand, one of many new additions to the ballpark, is located behind home plate. You will not get hit by a foul ball while waiting for your food.

img_0071David Hagan, the main man behind the Pulaski baseball rebirth, also owns the Shelor Motor Mile automobile dealership complex. That explains why the team store looks like this.

img_0072 Out on the field, the players were practicing their dance routines.

img_0073But who needs a ticket to the game when you can watch it from your front porch?

img_1836I have become accustomed to throwing out a first pitch before a game, but on this occasion I was asked to be the “Play Ball Kid.” Or, rather, “Play Ball Man.”

“Okay, Ben, what are the two magic words?” I was asked.

“Free beer!” yelled a fan, before I could respond.

I should have taken a cue from that fan, and repeated his answer into the microphone. Instead, I stuck to the script and yelled “Play Ball!” The next post will detail that which occurred while ball was being played.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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