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Calfee Park named top Rookie-Level ballpark in America

By DAVID GRAVELY
sports@southwesttimes.com

At the stroke of midnight Ballpark Digest confirmed what Pulaski Yankee fans have known for years; Calfee Park is the best ballpark in America.

Ballpark Digest is a website that has been in operation since 2002. August Publications, the parent organization of the group, is the home of a diverse group of sites that offer websites, books, social media and other merchandise dedicated to reviewing arenas, ball parks and stadiums that host baseball, softball, football and soccer. Each season they review amenities, attendance and other factors that make a venue a positive or negative experience for fans and players.

Each year, one of the biggest draws to the group is the annual Best of the Ballparks fan voting competition. Calfee Park won four rounds of head-to-head competition with other ballparks that host rookie-level teams in Minor League Baseball to earn the title of Best Rookie-Level Ballpark in America.

Several other Appalachian League clubs were also nominated for the competition. In the first round, Calfee Park defeated Hunter Wright Stadium, home of the Kingsport Mets. They went on to earn more votes than Burlington Athletic Stadium, home of the Burlington Royals, in the next round.

To make it to the finals, the Yankees defeated two-time defending champion TVA Credit Union Ballpark, home of the Johnson City Cardinals. They then earned a decisive 72 percent to 28 percent victory over Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark (Joe O’Brien Field), home of the Elizabethton Twins, to win the title.

When the official word came, Pulaski Yankee General Manager Betsy Haugh was justifiably excited.

“We’re very proud of our ballpark and are thrilled to be voted as the best rookie-level ballpark in America,”she said. “Calfee Park is a special place, showcasing a perfect blend of historical features and modern amenities. We’re honored baseball fans across America value our ballpark the way we do and recognize what a great home Calfee Park is for the Pulaski Yankees and Minor League Baseball.”

Considering that just a few short years ago the future of professional baseball in Pulaski was in doubt, the recognition is even more welcomed by longtime fans and supporters.

Built in 1935 as a part of the Works Progress Administration, which was one of the many New Deal Programs enacted by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the park has served the town and county of Pulaski in a number of ways through the years. There have been high school football games, horse shows, professional wrestling, high school and college baseball games at the park, which was used as the home field for the old Pulaski High School Orioles. It was named in honor of the former mayor of Pulaski, Ernest W. Calfee. It is currently the ninth oldest Minor League Baseball Park in the nation.

Renovations occurred in 1999, allowing it to be named to the State Historic Landmarks Registry. Those renovations were nice, but not enough. The Pulaski Mariners, the Rookie Level team of the Seattle Mariners, pulled out at the end of the 2014 season, leaving the park with no team and a large amount of renovations needed to meet league standards.

Enter David Hagan and the Shelor Automotive Group, who purchased Calfee Park from the town of Pulaski and immediately announced that the park would be the new home of the Pulaski Yankees, the rookie level team for the New York Yankees.

Things began to move quickly as major renovations began. New team clubhouses for the home and visiting teams, new concessions stands, a new press box and VIP towers, additional parking, upgraded and expanded seating, a new mascot, the addition of a 35’ x 22’ JumboTron in the outfield and a new Bermuda grass playing surface were big additions.

Then came the expanded upper concourse area, a new home office overlooking the field, a new scoreboard, a new drainage and irrigation system on the field and a covered area near the main concessions area complete with big screen televisions broadcasting the action on the field.

At the start of the 2019 season, fans were treated to a new three-tiered party deck along the third baseline, new box seating along the third baseline and a new souvenir shop. A new roof was also built to replace the old one over the third baseline seating area and a new walkway behind the seating areas to make moving through the park easier. The next phase of renovations and improvements is expected to be even bigger.

Those improvements have continued to bring large crowds to Calfee Park. A new single-game attendance record was set July 3 when a huge crowd of 4,869 fans cheered for the Yankees as they defeated the Elizabethton Twins 4-1 to win that series. That night was also the second time this season that the game was followed by a fireworks show, something that hasn’t happened in almost 30 years. It will happen a final time this season after the Aug. 16 game against the Kingsport Mets.

“This is the result of five years of continued improvements and support of the community,” David Hagan said. “We’re proud of this ballpark and the upgrades over past years that have helped Calfee Park meet the standards of the New York Yankees and Minor League Baseball.”

“We look forward to welcoming many more fans to the newly-crowned best rookie-level ballpark in America for the remainder of this season and beyond and thank everyone who voted for Calfee Park throughout this competition,” Haugh said.

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