I’m not sure I could have picked a better start to a 3 day ballpark road trip than Calfee Park in Pulaski, Virginia. Here’s an historic baseball stadium in the tiny town of Pulaski (pronounced pyuh-lah-ski). It doesn’t have the amenities of a new baseball palace, or even the High A park I visited later in the week. Despite that, this may have been the most enjoyable day at the game I’ve had in a long while.
The Appalachian League experience is about atmosphere and people, not amenities. In this regard, Calfee Park is outstanding. The park has a beautiful historic stone entrance dating back to 1935 you can reach from the left-field parking area, that harkens back to the original Pulaski Counts (the town is named after Count Casimir Pulaski, a Polish soldier regarded as the “father of the American Cavalry”.) Walking in from that vantage, the left field seats beyond the infield aren’t even really seats at all, but large concrete steps. Fans bring their own bag chairs, like they were watching a little league game in the park.
One of the first things I noticed at this game was that despite a decent crowd, the park was nearly silent… almost reverentially quiet. our seats behind home plate were incredibly close to the catcher, as there was not a lot of foul ground behind him, so every pop of the glove was the loudest noise we heard most of the night. Although the seats were only $6 each, they were nearly empty, except for our group, some scouts, players charting pitches, and a couple of die-hards.
A group like this will remind you why the low minors can be so much fun. There was a 10 year old boy sitting next to me, with a gentleman on the other side that I incorrectly assumed was his father. Nope… this kid comes to almost every game and keeps a detailed scorebook. When the President of the Appy League came to town, this kid recognized him! When the Astros GM came through, he gave the kid a military challenge coin with an Astros logo on the obverse. The man on the other side only knew him because they were both always there. The boy had to find different relatives to take him to the game each night, and his grandfather was happier in the bleachers, 30 yards away. Even the official scorer knew this kid, and would stick his head out the window to help him score a couple of tough plays.
As for the park itself, it’s mountain setting provides a beautiful backdrop for a game, and the large stands of trees may also add to the quiet factor. There are only a few dozen box seats behind home plate, and in front of the press box. The “Luxury Boxes” are a group of seats with picnic tables that run along the 1st base line. These boxes have no TV’s, no carpeting… no roofs or doors. they are merely reserved patio areas with the names of the local businesses that sponsor and rent those spaces. Very cool setup.
To fit in with the terrain, the park is much deeper in left field than in right, and the right field fence is twice as high with a berm behind it to compensate. bullpens are along the sidelines and are unprotected. there’s not a lot of foul ground, so the backstop netting extends a long way down each baseline.
Concessions are split into two stands. There’s the main stand that’s built into the back of the ticket booths along the 1st base promenade. The stand sells the hot dogs, candy, drinks, popcorn, etc. However, only the “grill” tucked back out of sight from the playing field does hamburgers and fries. So if you want a dog and some fries, you have to go to 2 different stands. If this were a larger park it would be inexcusable, but when total attendance is 829, it’s only a minor inconvenience.
Most of the food choices were straightforward, but the quality of the burgers was outstanding, and the prices were fantastic. Two burgers, fries and drinks was less than $20 – an unheard of price, even in high A ball. In addition to the standard fries, they also sold Mariner Fries, which were more like potato chips cut 1/4″ thick. These were fairly unique, and very hot and tasty.
Calfee Park is a gem, and my experience there this year is easily in the top 5 of all games I’ve ever attended. The park is historic, unique, and the cool mountain breezes are welcome on a hot August night in the South. While they only host a few dozen games a year, and they market to a low-cost crowd, the park is immaculately clean and you have easy access to everything you may want or need. It never feels contrived or cheap. This is a must-see park.