Tag Archives: virginia ballparks

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, Virginia

Pfitzner Stadium, Woodbridge, VIRGINIA

Number of states: still 21
States to go:  29

First game:  August 19, 2006 (Kinston Indians 6, Potomac Nationals 1)

Way, way, way out into the DC suburbs is a tiny minor-league ballpark.  While the occupants try to get a new ballpark every year, they continue to return to this run-of-the-mill field that’s a part of a high school complex in

Woodbridge, Virginia.  It’s uncertain how much longer they’ll remain, but I got in a game in at Pfitzner Stadium during the summer of 2006.

The ballpark itself is fairly nondescript.  It does not pass the “do we have any idea where we are” test…I saw no evidence we were in Virginia or near Washington DC.  We honestly could have been anywhere.  The ballpark is charmless as well.  There’s too much netting around the infield.  I lost virtually all memory of the place within a few months.  But, and for the first time, the part that troubled me the most was the way that the team’s owner actually interfered with my enjoyment of a game.

I don’t mind some wackiness and promotions as a part of my minor league baseball experience.  But it cannot interfere with the baseball on the field.  Art Silber, the owner of the Nationals, did just that.  Apparently, on Saturday nights, Silber coaches

first base for the team…and he did for the first half of the game or so, before taking a seat behind home plate in his baseball uniform.  This bugged me in the extreme.  What we have here are players and coaches who are trying to work their way up towards the major leagues, and Silber is interfering with that goal for each of them.  I’m not certain what or how much a first-base coach contributes, but the idea that this guy is living out some long-unaccomplishable fantasy at the expense of people who still have a legitimate shot at making the bigs…well, that bugged me.  He might say he’s showing his love of the game; I say it shows he’s not taking the game seriously.  What if a young rich person (like Master P a few years ago, or maybe Marc Cuban) bought a minor league team and decided that, rather than coaching first base, he wanted to play first base? Why is that any less ridiculous?  Mr. Silber, you’re out of line.  You interfered with the baseball.

On the other side of the coin, I don’t much mind if players take jobs that normally go to others.  Steve Mortimer sang the

national anthem.  He was nervous…probably more nervous than he was playing first base that day.  It made me root for him all the more…we don’t have enough Renaissance men like that in the world.

Probably the best part of my trip was getting to hang out with Tom.  We found ourselves a seat away from some others, and we said wacky stuff to each other throughout the game.  That’s just the way it happens.  He told me a good deal about Virginia politics.  We also had a lot of fun making up personalities for the players.  Singing Mortimer was easy, of

course, but it went further.  J.D. Martin was pitching for the Indians, and since it was his first game for Kinston, we decided just to call him “New Guy.”  We imagined his fellow Indians getting annoyed having to tell him how the copier worked, or carefully telling him which guys are the cool ones and which ones are the dorks to avoid.  A relief pitcher, Cody Bunkelman…well, he was fantastic.  Just awesome.  I caught a particularly resistant strain of Bunkelmania that day.  Tom thought I was insane.  He didn’t see Bunkelmania spreading across the nation.  I certainly do.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of this ballpark is that now, only a few months after going to the ballgame, I’ve forgotten almost everything about the ballpark.  So I will finish this not with words, but with a couple more pictures.


Regional feel:  4/10
Not much.  Only a local Congressman’s pitch and Uncle Slam save the score at all.

Charm:  2.5/5
Nothing too special.

Spectacle: 2.5/5
Rule #1:  Don’t let your spectacle interfere with the baseball.  The owner coaching…well, that interferes.  But I did like the player singing the anthem.

Team mascot/name:  3/5

Uncle Slam and me.  I like puns, so this name works.  But the team name?  Why not stick with “Cannons”?  So much better.

Aesthetics:  2/5
Some nice trees, but the ballpark itself is quite dull.

Pavilion area:  3/5

Scoreability:  1.5/5

Fans:  5/5
Props to my buddy Tom.

Intangibles:  2/5
It was a fun night, but the owner bugged me.

TOTAL:  25.5/50

Four Indians pitchers–J.D. “New Guy” Martin, Cody Bunkelman, Ryan Knippschild, and Randy Newsom–combine on a 4-hitter, allowing no earned runs.  Martin strikes out 4 in 4 innings, giving up two hits.  Bunkelman pitches two perfect innings in relief, striking out three and picking up his third win of the year.

Rodney Choy Foo, Nathan Panther, and Matt Whitney homer for the Indians.

Steve Mortimer goes 1-for-3 with a double for the Nationals.

(Written December 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.)