Category Archives: appalachian league

Ballparks of the Appalachian League.

Hunnicutt Field, Princeton, West Virginia

Hunnicutt Field, Princeton, WEST VIRGINIA

Number of states:  16
States to go:  34

Number of games:  1
First game:  July 24, 2006 (Greeneville Astros 8, Princeton Devil Rays 6)

(Click on any image to see a larger version.)

I’m not positive about this, since I haven’t looked up the populations of all 220 minor-league cities, but I’m fairly sure that Princeton, West Virginia is the smallest town with an affiliated minor league baseball team.  My American

Map atlas lists its population as only 6,000.  I’m impressed that it supports a minor league club.

I didn’t get much of a feel for the town, but it was obvious that it was small enough that the Devil Rays are HUGE there.  The town’s newspaper, the Princeton Times, is only a weekly, and in the copy I bought, Devil Rays news covered most of the 20-ish pages.  The front-page photo, above the fold, celebrated the Devil Rays’ victory of the Mercer Cup, a trophy which goes to the winner of the season series between the P-Rays and the Bluefield Orioles just down the road.  (It’s worth noting that the Orioles, while they represent Bluefield, West Virginia, play just

across the border in Virginia, in what might be the ballpark closest to a state border).

The ballpark itself isn’t in any kind of unique location, and does very little to let me know where I am.  The view outside of the ballpark includes a Wendy’s and a McDonald’s.  There aren’t any mountains or other landmarks that let me know I’m in West Virginia or Appalachia.  So I was prepared to give it a low “is there any question where you are” score, which would have doomed the ballpark to a poor score.  However, the workers for the Devil Rays gave me a whole lot of small-town hospitality, and since I was in the smallest town in the minor leagues, they get a lot of credit for that.

It all started with my Everett AquaSox cap.  There is nothing in common between the AquaSox and the D-Rays save a love of colors in the bluish-green family. 

They do not share geography, a league, an affiliation, or much else.  But the guy who offered me a 50-50 raffle ticket looked at my hat and said “Everett AquaSox?”  Nice!  I love minor league workers who are knowledgeable about the minor leagues…it makes the whole experience into a celebration of minor league ball.

Later that night, I headed out to meet Rob and Yolonda in the large-but-nondescript pavilion area (Rob was late to the game due to a horrendous cut-lip-on-broken-beer-bottle mishap in the pregame).  While out there, I saw the man I took to be one of the higher-ups at the ballpark.  I was right–it was the general manager, Jim Holland.  “Everett AquaSox!” he said to me.  I said I was impressed, and that they were my home team.  A conversation ensued where I told him we were trying

to make it out to a lot of minor league parks.  His response:  “You look like one of those people.”  Indeed, if “those people” are ballpark travelers, I am one.  I just wasn’t aware there was a look about us.  (My guess is “dorky-looking.”)  In exchange for my troubles, he offered me a free shot with the sledge-hammer at the “Hit a Car, Not a Pet” junker car.  I took a swing, and he offered me several more.  I’m basically a non-violent man, but it was nice to get any potential axe-murdering instincts I might have out of my system.  They gave Rob some free shots too.  Here’s one of them:

The fans were quite sweet.  There were loads of middle-aged ladies waving handbells around.  Jim told me they were called the “Rah-Rah Sisterhood.”  I got the sense that a good number of them

were host families or friends of the D-Rays players, and in a town of 6,000, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if players regularly encountered a healthy fraction of townspeople.  I could feel that.

And where else other than a town whose only bookstores are Christian bookstores would the primary mascot be Roscoe the Drug-Free Rooster?  Roscoe wandered around giving hugs to just about everyone in attendance.  He headed up in my direction and hugged me.  I talked to him, saying “How are you?”  Much to my surprise, Roscoe talked back to me.  “I’m fine, how are you doing?”  His accent was slow and

sweet.  I don’t know why, but that made me feel especially good on this night.

The ballpark itself had some interesting quirks.  A walk behind the stands reveals two nice places to stand.  First, down the third base line, a spectator can walk to a vantage point where he/she can peer backwards into the visitors’ dugout (not unlike Battle Creek’s C.O. Brown Stadium) or right at the bullpen.  Underneath the home plate stands there is a wonderful little vista featuring a bench that, as best as I could figure, anybody could occupy–although it appeared spoken for by a couple of regulars.  They honor past P-Rays who have moved on to the big club with pictures on the outfield wall.  And I recommend the fried bologna sandwich, although don’t get caught making the same assumption I did.  I thought

the adjective “fried” applied to the whole sandwich…that they were taking the entire sandwich and dipping in the deep fryer beside the french fries, kind of like Elvis with his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.  That didn’t turn out to be the case. Instead, they had just fried the bologna.  Pretty good stuff…tasted like ring baloney.

By the end of the night, I really had a positive feeling about the ballpark.  I came close to winning a hundred bucks by throwing a tennis ball into a hula hoop (a fairly tough task…the stands are very, very high above the field, and the hula hoop was well out onto the field…but I just came up a few inches short, way closer than anyone else).  Jim, on the field, let us go by saying “We love you!” The cool thing is, after a great night of baseball, I felt like he meant it.  And when we passed him by on the way out and he wished us safe travels…yes, he remembered us…well, I guess it was confirmed.

So, on the whole, the ballpark has just enough charm, quirkiness, and sweetness to win me over in spite of its drawbacks.  If I make it back there, probably to visit Bluefield, I wouldn’t mind seeing Hunnicutt Field again.


Regional feel:  6/10
The view from the seating bowl is dull, and could be from any of the 50 states.  But the fried bologna sandwich and small-town hospitality bump up the score a bit.

Charm:  4.5/5
All over the place.

Spectacle:  4/5
Pretty good.  While we missed the “everybody gets in free” promotion by 24 hours, and while the “Christian Baseball Night” may be strange to me were I of another faith, there was plenty going on–a moving mascot, a sledge hammered car, food–that was appropriate for low-level ball, but never got in the way of the game.  And I came close to winning a hundred bucks.

Team mascot/name:  3.5/5

Roscoe the Drug-Free Rooster is a bit of a non-sequitur for a marine-based team, but he was a nice guy.  The name “Devil Rays” was appropriate for Appalachian League naming conventions.

Aesthetics:  1.5/5
The one way this park was lacking.  Quirky, but not exactly attractive–and the view is not at all good.

Pavilion area:  3/5
Not terribly picturesque, but I like the sledge-hammer and car.

Scoreability:  3/5
A few minor slip-ups.

Fans:  4/5

Intangibles:  5/5
On the whole, an excellent night.  Any game that ends with the GM saying “We love you!” and my not being creeped out by it is a good night.

TOTAL:  34.5/50


The Astros’ balanced attack includes two RBI each from Brandon Caipen, Ralph Henriquez, and Andrew Darnell.

Andrew Lopez hits three doubles and drives in two in a losing effort.

(Written August 2006.)

DeVault Stadium, Bristol, Virginia

DeVault Stadium, Bristol, VIRGINIA

Number of states:  15
States to go:  35

First game:  July 23, 2006 (Johnson City Cardinals 5, Bristol Sox 2)

Much like Asheville, I was thrilled that my ballpark travels brought me to Bristol. When on earth would I have ever made it to the Virginia/Tennessee border otherwise?  There, I found a gorgeous ballpark in a charming, quirky town.  There was a big show on State Street and loads of activity on both Tennessee’s and Virginia’s sidewalks, but we headed a little ways into Virginia to enjoy my first-ever Rookie League game.

The trip there from Hickory, NC was a good chunk of the fun.  We took the Blue Ridge Parkway a lot of the way.  Who would want to ever

put themselves on an interstate again after that?  We were accompanied much of the way by a Christian motorcycle group, and then meandered up to the gorgeous NC/TN/VA tri-point.  Even with that much activity, we did make it to the ballpark just in time for first pitch.

On the way in, there’s a plaque commemorating the astonishing accomplishment of one Ron Necciai.  The plaque tells us that he pitched what can only be called a mega-perfect game…or so I thought.  A little bit of research revealed to me that he didn’t strike out 27 guys in a row.  In fact, with two out in the third inning, the catcher dropped one of his third strikes, thus enabling him to move on to strikeout victim #27.  One guy managed to make contact, and I’m not certain how many walked…so the accomplishment is a

little misleading.  On top of that, this English teacher is a little troubled by a critical misspelling…Necciai’s hapless opponents were the Welch Miners (of Welch, West Virginia) and not the Welsh Miners (who, for all I know, could be from Aberystwyth).  Still, it served as an excellent welcome to the stadium. It was nice to walk the lengthy trip from parking lot to stadium and be greeted by a sense of local baseball history.

DeVault Stadium is a part of a high-school complex (signs boast that Virginia High School plays there) in the midst of a gorgeous valley.  It does very nicely in the “regional feel” department because, literally everywhere I looked, there was something appropriate to the area.  In addition to the plaque, I could look past the outfield fence.  Past left field?  A valley, lined with trees on either side.  Check.  Past right field? 

A couple of small-towny houses.  Check.  Where am I?  Not far from the mountains in the small-town South.

Bristol manages to be small-town in its presentation as well as its location.  As best as I could tell, it was staffed entirely by local retirees–with few exceptions, I didn’t encounter anybody under 65.  I’ve got nearly 30 years left, but maybe I can talk my wife into retiring there.  Bristol looked beautiful, probably is not terribly expensive, and we could spend the summers of our golden years chilling out at a lovely ballpark. My favorite of the senior citizens was the PA guy. He was so laid-back it was hilarious. As kids got on the field to do the game-opening “find your shoe that we’ve stolen” game, for instance, he didn’t go overboard with the high-pitched, high-volume, the-Hindenburg-is-crashing excitement that so many PA guys are going with. Heck, he barely said anything…something like: “All right. We’re about to do the shoe race…and here it is.” Loved the guy.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the ballpark is the tree-lined hill behind the foul lines.  It

provides a place for people to sit back and watch the game and for kids to play ball.  It creates a buffer zone between the ballpark and the surrounding neighborhood, which I appreciate.  There are even trees that obscure the ballpark in a few places, which somehow adds to the charm.

It was here that I further developed a rule for minor-league ballparks.  Many minor league ballparks have grassy hills from which kids can watch the game.  Seeing what happens on the grassy hills is a good indication of how seriously a ballpark takes its baseball.  As best as I can tell, there are three levels.  The l

owest level is a place where kids are pounding the snot out of each other in a Lord of the Flies-style melee for nine innings.  That means that the baseball is incidental, probably both to spectators and management.  The next level up is a place where kids don’t pay attention to the game because they’re playing ball…playing catch, or, in the case of these kids at Bristol, taking grounders off of a wall.  The next level features kids predominantly watching the game, although occasionally burning off steam.  That’s an impressive level and worth striving for.  But at Bristol, I had to invent a new level, because I looked over at one point and found an empty hill.  The kids were all in the seats watching the game with their families.  That’s an extraordinary achievement.  Check out this rule the next time you are at a ballpark with grassy hills.

Further adding to Bristol’s charm: 

the least expensive concessions I have ever encountered at a ballpark, with all proceeds going to Virginia High School.

DeVault Stadium also marked the the first time that I encountered visiting play-by-play guys (or at least I think that’s what they were) at the ballpark.  I guess that the press box doesn’t offer too much space, because sitting in the top corner of the first-base bleachers were two guys wearing the colors of the visiting Johnson City Cardinals.   The play-by-play and color were provided by the same guy, and he didn’t seem to want to talk much.  It looks like the other guy is doing a video recording of the game: maybe he wants to critique his performance.  Perhaps he’s not the official radio guy for the Cardinals–maybe this is just what he does for fun, much like I would turn down the volume and do play-by-play in my basement as a child.  Still, it was bizarre to say the least.

Other things we noticed about the ballpark:  They put a radar gun right out

in the middle of the stands behind home plate.  Although they have a scoreboard display of the speed of the pitch, it’s pretty cool to be able to walk up to the actual gun.

These are the kinds of touches that made this such a marvelous stadium.  It just felt right.

Two bizarre incidents stand out on this night.  Michelle and I spotted a young woman who clearly was interested in hooking up with one (or more) Johnson City Cardinals.  She wound up hanging out in the stands by the couple of Cardinals who were to chart pitches. 

Needless to say, they were not at all interested in their job.  In fact, I actually saw one of them give a sustained caress to her butt.  She didn’t even recoil a little bit.  Hel-LO, kiddoes!  There are people behind that behind!  Get a room!  Looks like somebody doesn’t have enough interest in the craft of pitching to last.

The stud of the night was home plate umpire Tommy Sewell.  In the eighth inning, a foul ball smashed off of the dirt and into his left hand.  I’m 99% sure it broke his pinkie finger…and yet he finished the game, holding his hand awkwardly on his knee behind home plate.  I didn’t see him take so much as an aspirin.  Tommy–way to be, dude.

Also, In the midst of the night, Yolonda, the least baseball-crazy of the four of us taking this intense trip, seemed to have something click.  Even though we were sitting on highly uncomfortable cinderblocks (if I go back, I sit on the lawn instead), she got the point of these travels we were in the midst of.  “I can see the appeal of this,” she said, looking over the diamond at a Virginia sunset.

I’ll try to make it back to Bristol if I ever get a chance.


Regional feel: 8.5/10
Very good here.  Geographically gorgeous.

Charm:  5/5
As good as it gets.

Spectacle:  3.5/5
Quietly effective.  I’m sort of torn here, since I like a few promotions at my low-level minors, but here, the quietness added to the charm.

Team mascot/name:  2.5/5
No mascot–it’d have been nice to have one, but then again, I liked the laid-backness of living without one.  The name “Sox” fits in with the Appalachian League naming conventions, sort of.  (Why not “White Sox”?)

Aesthetics:  4.5/5
Architecturally, it ain’t much, but oh those trees and that valley.  Flat-out beautiful.

Pavilion area:  5/5

Scoreability:  1/5
Many, many, many missed decisions.

Fans:  4/5

Intangibles:  5/5
A great little ballpark in a great little town.  I’ll do all I can to get back.

TOTAL:  39/50


Henderson Lugo starts the 5-hit shutout…but only lasts four innings.  Oscar Lara finishes it with three innings of relief and gets the win.

(Written August 2006.)