On the Road: Baseball in its Purest Form in Bristol

To see all posts from my June 28 visit to the Bristol Pirates, 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).

Before visiting the Appy League, quite a few people got in touch with me via email and social media to extol the circuit’s rustic, old-fashioned, down-to-earth locales. “This is baseball how it used to be,” was a common refrain.

If “how it used to be” = “simplicity, access and intimacy” then the Bristol Pirates’ home of Boyce Cox Field is a prime example of such. The Pirates are run as a non-profit, and don’t have a single full-time employee. For nearly everyone involved with this franchise, working at the ballpark is a labor of love.

Boyce Cox Field is located in Virginia, although there is also a “sister city” of Bristol, Tennessee (the state line runs down the middle of downtown’s State Street).

img_0131The tree-lined pathway seen above sets the tone for the kind of environment that exists here. From the entrance to the sloping grass berm to the wood-paneled press box, Boyce Cox Field felt like less like a professional ballpark and more like a well-maintained summer camp athletics area. But this is nonetheless a professional environment. Boyce Cox Field has hosted Appalachian League baseball since 1969, and Minor League Baseball in the region dates back further than that.

This plaque, located beyond a rightward bend in the aforementioned pathway, commemorates what is certainly the most famous occurrence in Bristol’s Minor League Baseball history: Ron Necciai’s 27-strikeout nine-inning no-hitter.

img_0133

Necciai, who appeared at a Bristol game in 2012 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his accomplishment, made his Major League debut with Pittsburgh during the 1952 season but didn’t pitch in the bigs at any point thereafter.

Lucas Hobbs, a local lawyer who moonlights as Bristol’s VP of marketing, was my pregame tour guide. He noted that there is a typo in the plaque: Necciai struck out 27 Welch Miners. Not Welsh Miners. Though they may have been Welsh, for all I know.

Beyond the plaque is the press box.

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The press box is more than a press box, as it also comprises office and storage area. As I entered, the game-day staff were in preparation mode.

img_0138Meanwhile, to the left, stood the foreboding entrance to the GM’s office.

img_0137Behind the door was Mahlon Luttrell, who let me in even though I did not know the secret knock.

img_0139I spoke with Mahlon and Lucas for a good 20 minutes about the Pirates and how they operate, which formed the basis for this story. To learn more about Bristol Baseball, just ignore my shadow and check out this banner.

img_0149One important element of the Bristol experience that is not illuminated in the signage is this: Boyce Cox Field has urinal troughs! Urinal troughs are a dying breed, and I will document their existence whenever I am able to do so.

img_1667As scenic as the men’s rest room was, it was even more scenic on the field.

img_1669While on the field I snapped a pic of Lucas and his daughter, Savannah, who was serving as the Pirates’ bat girl on this beautiful Tuesday evening.

img_1670I also got the chance to witness Dingbat’s dance moves.

This season, Dingbat was joined by a new addition to the mascot line-up: Captain Buc.

img_1675As Dingbat looked on, I took the mound for a ceremonial first pitch and, of course, threw a perfect strike.

img_0151Afterwards, my perfect form was used a teaching moment for these impressionable Rookie-level players. “Do what Ben’s Biz does” was, I’m sure, the lesson being imparted here.

img_0152Prior to the National Anthem, a local chaplain led the fans and players in a brief prayer. I had not experienced this pregame element before.

img_0155Once the religious and patriotic rituals had concluded, there was nothing left to do but Play Ball.

There will, of course, be more where this came from. Stay tuned for additional dispatched from Bristol, Virginia.

***

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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