It was an All-American type of night in Pulaski. The Yankees provided the fireworks on July 3 during the game, beating the Elizabethton Twins 4-1, and then offered additional fireworks in a magnificent show of light and sound after the game ended.
Yes, this was an Independence Day celebration to remember.
There was an old-fashioned pie-eating contest between innings. Not sure if they were All-American apple pies or not, but the two children competing gave it their all and devoured most of their individual delicacies. There was also a hot dog eating contest, with a group of people gorging on tasty franks in a match worthy of the Nathan’s Famous competition at Coney Island.
Also included in the price of admission: a competitive game, great ballpark food at fair prices, and talented young players giving their all while providing incredible displays of hitting, base-running, fielding, and pitching—the whole enchilada. But most of all, there was a sense of community. The Yankees broke another record with 4,869 in attendance that evening, and even though that is a massive number for a Single-A team, Pulaski never loses its sense of community closeness.
The Yankees and owners David Hagan and Larry Shelor continually make improvements to Calfee Park, and the last time the standings came out, the park was a finalist for Best Rookie League Ballpark in America. Oh, yeah, in another set of important standings, the Yankees just happen to be battling for first place in the Appalachian League.
If you haven’t seen it, the new grandstand is, well, grand. The concourse now behind the stands is vast and easily accommodates concessions placed strategically on the breezeway, eliminating the need for a long trek to centralized refreshments. The new left field seating area with umbrellas and tables is right on the field, and the truth is, there is not a bad seat in the house.
The Yankees know a secret that James Earl Jones’ character articulated quite well in the movie, “Field of Dreams” when discussing Ray’s obsession with building a ballfield: “People will come, Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and that could be again. Oh…people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Baseball is a part of America, a part of a shared past for so many, and do they ever come to that beautifully refurbished park in Pulaski!
Then again, how can you beat a six dollar general admission ticket ($5 for seniors)? Families can afford tickets and refreshments without having to cash in the 401K!
Beautiful park, great food, affordable prices—all those things help to bring together the community. That’s just what a Yankees game is all about. Old friends see each other, stop and say hello and catch up on each other’s lives. They shout out encouragement to the Yankees (yes, fans know each player’s name, batting average, pitching ERA—every stat), and then get back to talking about the church picnic, upcoming vacation, a niece’s new baby, admiring a child’s patriotic outfit, or checking out another’s glove hanging on a hand anxiously hoping for a foul ball.
That’s what sets a minor league park like Calfee apart—there is a real inclusiveness, almost a feeling of family, and that’s part of the charm of the place.
But don’t forget the baseball! Just like in “The Natural,” when slugger Robert Redford’s character faces a Nebraska farmboy pitching machine version of his younger self, at the end of the game Derek “Cowboy” Craft was called in for the last 1 1/3 innings. Craft is a presence on the mound who looks to be at least seven feet tall. Some of the fans call him “Big Tex” instead of Cowboy, paying homage to his home state. He also sports a 96 mph major-league fastball that flashes consistently on the stunning jumbotron in left-center and shut down the Twins. What a great ending—the closer comes in and does his job masterfully; there were no Robert Redford end-of-game heroics on the part of these Twins.
Yes, this Independence Day Eve had a bit of everything one could hope for: baseball, community and patriotism. For the 5,000 or so lucky enthusiasts in the ballpark, the Pulaski Yankees came through, as usual, with an exciting game and a baseball experience that will encourage legions of fans to quickly return for another community get-together at their beautiful stadium.
They have built it, and they do come—and they love it.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.