Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Linda K Epling Stadium, Beckley WV

Basic Information
Team: West Virginia Miners (Prospect League)
Game: Miners vs Richmond River Rats-7/3/2011
Team Website: http://www.wvminersbaseball.com/
Ticket Information: (304) 252-7233
Tourism Information: (800) VISIT-WV or http://www.visitwv.com/
Online Broadcasts: Groovy 94.1FM http://www.groovy94.com/
Local Newspaper: Beckley Register-Herald http://www.register-herald.com/

Team History: Now in their second season in the Prospect League, a college wood-bat league, the West Virginia Miners proudly call the beautiful Linda K Epling Stadium home. In their first season in the Prospect League, the Miners finished with a record of 26-30, good for second place overall in the league's Eastern Division. The team's sophomore season has been quite successful so far for the Miners, as they won the Eastern Division's first half championship, and will be hosting the league's All-Star Game on July 13th.

Stadium Capacity: Linda K Epling Stadium has a capacity of approximately 2,500.

How About That Name (And Some History): Built by the Epling family, the Linda K Epling Stadium was opened on June 5, 2010. The park is also the home of Upper Deck Baseball Training Center, and is the "home away from home" for the Marshall University varsity baseball team. The park was named after Linda K Epling, the wife of team founder Doug Epling.

On The Town: The county seat of Raliegh County, Beckley sits in south central West Virginia, approximately sixty miles south of Charleston, and just over forty miles from the West Virginia/Virginia border.

The town, which has a population of approximately 77,000, was named for John James Beckley, who was the first Librarian of Congress. The city was founded by his son, Alfred, who served as a commander in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

Notable celebrities from Beckley include bluegrass pioneer "Little" Jimmy Pickems, actor Chris Sarandon, and singer Bill Withers, who sang the late sixties classic "Lean On Me".

Getting There: From I-77: Exit at WV Route 16 south towards Bradley/North Beckley (Exit 42). Turn right onto US Route 19/WV Route 16, Follow to Ragland Rd. Make a left onto Ragland Rd for approximately one mile, and the stadium will be on the left.

Nearby Airport: The closest major airport to Beckley is Yeager Airport in Charleston, approximately 70 miles north.

What To Do Before The Game: Beckley has two interesting tourist attractions, both of which are not far from the ballpark. If you are interested in arts and crafts made by local artisans, then Tamarack is the place for you. Located on I-77 just a few miles north from Linda K Epling Stadium, Tamarack features dozens of small shops which feature everything from candles to quilts to pottery to specialty foods. Tamarack also boasts a large food court which is managed by the world famous Greenbriar Inn. With hours from 8AM to 8PM, the Tamarack food court serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. For more information, visit http://www.tamarackwv.com/.
Also located just a few minutes drive from the ballpark is the Exhibition Coal Mine. The largest coal-related tourist attraction in the region. visitors have an opportunity to ride a coal car a quarter mile underground and see how those who mined coal spent their days, often for little pay. In addition, visitors can see the Coal Company house, the home of the mine superintendent, a local church and school, and some of the small shanty houses that the miners lived in. For more information, call (304) 256-1747.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There are many choices in the Beckley area for pre-game dining. Pretty much every chain is represented in the immediate area around I-77 and on the roads approaching the ball park.

Where To Stay: I stayed in Charleston on this section of my trip, but three local motels, the Comfort Inn, the EconoLodge, and the Sleep Inn, all in Beckley, are team sponsors. If you're staying in the area, I would recommend patronizing these establishments. For information, call (800)4-CHOICE.

Ticket Prices: Miners tickets are priced as follows: $8.50 (box seats) and $5.00 (bleachers).

Parking: There is a large on-site lot at Epling Stadium which is free.
The Good Seats: Epling Stadium is designed in the traditional "wishbone" shape. Behind home plate are five sections of chair back seating, which for the most part, are reserved for season ticket holders. Down each foul line are large bleacher sections, both of which allow easy access to the main concourse. As the park only holds just 2,500 fans, all of the seats give a good view of the action.

Getting In: The box office and main entrance to the park is located on the first base side.

Stadium Food: The park's main concession stand, "Mama K's Kitchen", is located under the home plate grandstand, which unfortunately, was not fortuitously designed. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of room for lines under the stand, which clogged up the traffic flow around the park.
The concession line was on the limited side, but for this level, it was quite acceptable. In addition to the standard ballpark eats, "Mama K's", also served chicken and barbecue sandwiches for an agreeable four dollars each. I sampled the ballpark hot dog, which although it was pre-made, wasn't too bad. It was still fairly warm, but the bun was beginning to get a bit soggy.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the "Home of the Miners":

Hot Dog: $2.25   Nachos: $3.00   Pretzel: $2.50   Large Soda: $2.00   Pizza Slice: $3.00

As with the other two parks I explored on this trip, Epling Stadium is "dry", meaning no beer is sold.

Soft Drinks: Coca-Cola is the soft drink of choice at the park.

ATM: There were no ATM's available at Epling Stadium.

Souvenirs: A fairly large souvenir stand is located inside the main concourse between the bleachers and the home plate seating area. The Miners have a surprisingly good line of merchandise at what I feel are economical prices.

Restrooms: The mens and womens rooms are located on either side of the concession stand behind home plate. Like the rest of the park, they are sparkling clean.
Mascot: The Miners have two mascots, one "official", and one "super fan". Miner Mike, the main mascot, is extremely active, circulating throughout the park, greeting fans, leading cheers, and participating in in-game contests and skits. "Big Paul", a Miners season ticket holder who dresses up like a real miner, leads cheers and holds up signs encouraging the players.

Dance Team: None.

Program: The large, informative Miners program is handed out free to fans upon entering the park.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: Epling Stadium has a two scoreboard set up, with one in left field that shows the standard game information, and a video screen in right center that is used for player information and short videos. I was surprised that the video board didn't get more use in terms of advertisements and promotions, it was refreshing not to be constantly distracted from the game with commercials.
Keith Thompson, the sports director of ESPN 102.3 is the team's public address voice, and he is a good one. He has an excellent voice, a good delivery, and is just enthusiastic enough.

Stadium Staff: Linda K Epling Stadium has some of the nicest, most pleasant people working for them, which, to me anyway, is a big selling point. Everyone had a smile on their face and an unfailingly welcoming attitude.

Atmosphere: A sparkling clean park, good game presentation, enthusiastic fans, and a picturesque setting all makes for a very pleasant, stress-free night out.

Overall Rating: I was very impressed with the photos of Linda K Epling Park on the team's website, but after walking in, they simply don't do it justice. The Home of the Miners is simply a jewel of a park, and one that I will, without a doubt, return to in the near future.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Boyce Cox Field/DeVault Memorial Stadium, Bristol VA

Basic Information
Team: Bristol White Sox (Appalachian League)
Game: Sox vs Burlington Royals-7/3/2011
Team Website: http://www.bristolsox.com/
Ticket Information: (276) 206-9946
Tourism Information: (423) 989-4850 or http://www.visitbristoltnva.org/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.bristolsox.com/
Local Newspaper: Bristol Herald-Courier http://www.bristolnews.com/

Team History: The Appalachian League has been ensconced in the city of Bristol since 1911. From 1911 through 1925, teams called the Boosters and State Liners have called Bristol home. After the 1925 season, Bristol was without baseball until 1941, when the Appy returned to Bristol, but this time it was for good. From 1942 until 1994, Bristol was aligned with the New York Giants, the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers. In 1995, the Chicago White Sox came to town, and have stayed.

Team Affiliation: The Sox are the rookie level affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

Stadium Capacity: Bryce Cox Field has a capacity of 2,000.

How About That Name (And Some History): According to Sox GM Mahlon Luttrel, DeVault Memorial Stadium was originally built as a high school football stadium, but was retrofitted for baseball. It was originally opened in 1969, and is named after Charlton "Chauncey" DeVault, who served as the president of the Appalachian League from 1957 until his death in 1980. I do not know who Boyce Cox was, but he must have been involved with the Sox or with Virginia High School, who's baseball team play their home games there.
On The Town: It seems rather fitting that the twin cities of Bristol, VA and Bristol, TN have two nicknames, which are equally appropriate. the cities call themselves "the Birthplace of Country Music" and "Thunder Valley".

Bristol, VA, which sits just north of the Virginia/Tennessee border, is serviced by Interstate 81 and has a population of 17,835 as of the most recent census. It was originally called Goodson, but was renamed Bristol (after Bristol, England) in 1890.

In 1927, Ralph Peer, head of Victor Records, started recruiting and recording local music groups, looking to get the "feel" of the traditional music from the area. One of those groups was the Carter Family, who sung traditional songs from the area like "Let The Circle Be Unbroken " and "Wabash Cannonball". One of the younger daughters, June Carter, married Johnny Cash, and their legacy was made permanent.

Ten miles south of Bristol, VA, in Bristol, TN, is Bristol Motor Speedway, better known as "Thunder Valley". One of the few half-mile tracks still in use in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, Bristol Motor Speedway seats over a 160,000, and is the home of two races, the Food Club 400 and the Irwin Tools Night Race, a 500 lap event.

Getting There: From I-81, take I-381 (exit 3) south into Bristol. At the fourth traffic light, make a right onto Euclid Ave. Follow for a half mile, and the ballpark will be on the right.

Nearby Airport: The closest major airport to Bristol is McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, which is approximately two hours east of Bristol.
What To Do Before The Game: This was a real quick trip for me, so I didn't get a chance to really see the town. I would contact the convention and visitors bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: I really didn't have a chance to check out what was available for pre-game eating, as I arrived into town just before game time. I can tell you that there is a Subway and a Krystal's, just next to and across the street from the park, respectively.

Where To Stay: I stayed in Princeton, WV for this trip, so I can't recommend any local lodgings, so again, I would contact the convention and visitors bureau for more information.

Ticket Prices: BriSox tickets are priced as follows $6.00 (box seats), $4.00 (general admission-adults), and $3.00 (general admission-youth).

Parking: There is a fairly decent sized lot at the entrance to the stadium complex, and parking there was free.
The Good Seats: After learning that DeVault Memorial Stadium was a retrofitted football stadium, it was a bit easier for me to understand the seating set up, which I originally thought was a bit haphazard. The first four rows along the baselines are chair back seating, most of which are reserved for season ticket holders. Behind the home plate reserved seating is a small section of concrete bleachers and a building which serves as the press box/concession stand/merchandise store. After a small space where the chair back seating ends along either baseline, there are large metal bleachers which holds the majority of the stadium's capacity. Behind the left field bleachers, there is a small hill where fans can stretch out on blankets or use beach chairs, but the view there is obstructed at best.

Getting In: The ticket window is located at the edge of the stadium's parking lot. After getting your ticket, you pass through the gate, and then walk along a path for about a hundred yards until you reach the ballpark.

Stadium Food: There is one concession stand, located in the main building behind home plate, where the concessions are run by the local high school's booster club. The selection of food there was very limited, but was definitely a value, price-wise. The only "specialty" items were Chick-Fil-A sandwiches, TCBY yogurt, and Pizza Plus pizza. The pizza was sold at a small stand opposite the concession stand, and also sold, of all things, 50/50 raffle tickets. The pizza was a bargain at $1.00 per slice, but I think would have been a little better if it was hotter. The hot dog, which was pre-made, wasn't too bad. It was on a fresh bun, but I think would have been better if the wiener was more than luke warm.
Here is a sampling of the prices for concessions at the home of the BriSox:

Hot Dog: $2.00   Nachos: $2.00   Large Soda: $2.00   Pizza Slice: $1.00

As in Princeton, beer was not sold at the game, since the park is located near a high school.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are sold at DeVault Memorial Stadium.

ATM: There are no ATM's on site at the ballpark.

Souvenirs: The "Sox Box" is located on the first base side of the home plate building. The team has a small line of merchandise.

Restrooms: There is a large building at the end of the right field bleachers which hosts the men's and women's restrooms as well as the locker rooms for both teams. The rest rooms were adequate, but could have used a bit of an upgrade.
Mascot: The team's website says they have a mascot, a character named "Dingbat", but he was not in attendance at the game I was at.

Dance Team: None

Program: The BriSox program costs $2.00.

Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: The scoreboard at DeVault was your basic variety, similar to the style used in Princeton, giving just the basic game day information.
The PA voice was a little on the laconic side, and could have used a bit more enthusiasm across the board. There was also very little music played before and during the game.

Stadium Staff: The people I encountered at the Sox game were fairly friendly, but very laid back.

Atmosphere: Even though the team drew a season high crowd of almost 3,500, there really didn't seem like there was much of an atmosphere at all (perhaps many of the attendees were there for the post-game fireworks show).

Overall Rating: DeVault Memorial Stadium is a utilitarian, unpretentious ballpark, that despite it's quirks and drawbacks is not a bad place to watch baseball. It really isn't worth a special trip, but if you're in the area, it's not a bad night out.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hunnicutt Field, Princeton WV

Basic Information
Team: Princeton Rays (Appalachian League)
Game: Rays vs Bluefield Blue Jays-7/2/2011
Team Website: http://www.princetonrays.net/
Ticket Information: (304) 487-2000
Tourism Information: (800) 221-3206 or http://www.visitmercercounty.com/
Online Broadcasts: http://www.princetonrays.net/
Local Newspaper: Bluefield Daily Telegraph http://www.bdtonline.com/

Team History: The city of Princeton has been a member of the Appalachian League since 1988, when the Pittsburgh Pirates placed their rookie league team in southern West Virginia for two seasons. After the Pirates dropped their affiliation, Princeton hosted a co-op team for one season, then welcomed the Cincinnati Reds from 1991 through 1996. In 1997, one season before the big league team began play, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays placed their rookie affiliate in Princeton, and they have been there ever since. The team won the Appalachian League title once, bringing home the flag in 1994, while affiliated with Cincinnati.

Team Affiliation: The P-Rays are the Appalachian League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Stadium Capacity: Hunnicutt Field has a seating capacity of 1,950.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in 1988, H.P. Hunnicutt Field has been the home of the Appy League in Princeton since day one of the team. In 2000, the park was demolished and rebuilt on the same site. It has always held the name of the H.P. and Anne Hunnicutt Foundation, a local philanthropic organization.
On The Town: Located in the extreme southern portion of West Virginia, the city of Princeton has a population of just under eight thousand. It is part of Mercer County, and is serviced by Interstate 77, which runs approximately five miles east of downtown.

In 1775, Mitchell Clay homesteaded a settlement near what is present day Princeton. The settlement took its name from Princeton, NJ, where during a Revolutionary War battle two years later, General Hugh Mercer, a Virginia apothecary, was killed.

The Virginia General Assembly (West Virginia was still a part of the state of Virginia at the time) passed an act incorporating the town of Princeton in 1838.

Probably the most famous resident of Princeton was actor Bob Denver, who in the early days of television was known as Maynard G Krebs on "The Life and Times of Dobie Gillis", and what was probably is most beloved role, was Gilligan on "Gilligan's Island". Denver spent most of the later years of his life living in Princeton.

Getting There: From I-77, exit at WV 460 (Big Laurel Hwy) west towards Princeton (exit 9). Take WV 460 to Ingleside Rd. Make a right onto Ingleside Rd, and follow to Tiger Dr. Make a right at the end of Tiger Dr, and Hunnicut Field will be on your right.

Nearby Airport: The closest major airport to Princeton is Yeager Airport in Charleston, approximately 100 miles north of Princeton.

What To Do Before The Game: I didn't have much time to investigate the area around Princeton, so I would contact the Mercer County Visitors Bureau for more information.

Where To Eat Before The Game: There really isn't much in the vicinity of the ball park, but there are several selections near the Days Inn, including Bob Evans, Cracker Barrel, Texas Roadhouse, Applebees, Hardees, and Wendys.

Where To Stay: On this trip, I stayed at the Days Inn in Princeton. This hotel, located near the intersection of Interstate 77 and Route 460, has good sized guest rooms, complimentary wi-fi, a large indoor pool in an adjacent building, and free continental breakfast. In addition, there is a stack of coupons in the lobby for free Rays tickets when you show your room key at the Hunnicutt Field box office. For more information, call (304) 425-8100 or (800) DAYSINN or visit http://www.daysinn.com/.
Ticket Prices: Rays tickets are priced as follows: $5.00 (box seats), $4.00 (adult general admission), and $3.00 (youth and senior general admission).

Parking: There are two lots directly adjacent to the ballpark, and both are free.

The Good Seats: With a capacity of just under two thousand, every seat at Hunnicutt Field is right on top of the action. The main grandstand hugs home plate, features chair back seating and is the only covered seating in the park. The main grandstand is approximately ten feet above the playing field, which makes the view even better. Down each foul line are matching bleacher sections which are good for you sun worshippers out there. Under the main grandstand is a small area with picnic tables and easy access to the concession stands. These seats are at field level and give a "players eye" view of the action, and some well appreciated shade.

Getting In: The main entrance and ticket booth are outside the park.

Stadium Food: "Roscoe's Grille", the concession stand at Hunnicutt Field is located under the main grandstand just to the right of home plate. While the stand isn't the biggest, the quality is very good and selection of food served there is quite substantial.

At the game I attended, that afternoon's special was barbecued ribs and french fries, which cost $6.50. According to people I spoke to who were having the ribs, they were quite tasty and definitely worth the price. I had two hot dogs, a pretzel, and a can of Pepsi, which cost an incredibly reasonable $6.00. Although the dogs were pre-made, they were grilled to perfection and served still hot on a fresh bun.
Other specialty items served at Roscoe's Grille included cheese steak sandwiches, fried bologna sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, and pickles.

Here is a selection of the concession prices at Hunnicutt Field:

Hot Dog: $1.50   Hamburger: $3.50   Nachos: $2.50   Pretzel: $2.00   Soda: $1.00 (can)   Ice Cream: various prices   French Fries: $2.00   Pizza Slice (Little Caesar's): $2.00

Beer is not served at Hunnicutt Field as it is built on the property of the local high school.

Soft Drinks: Pepsi products are served at Hunnicutt Field.

ATM: As far as I was aware, there was no ATM at the stadium.

Souvenirs: The Rays have a good-sized and well stocked souvenir counter near the main entrance.

Restrooms: There are appropriately sized rest rooms under the bleachers on either side of the park, and are serviceable and clean.

Mascot: According to Rays' GM Jim Holland, there were costume issues with Roscoe the Rooster, so he was not available at the game I attended.

Dance Team: None

Program: The Rays' program, a large format newspaper, costs $2.00.
Scoreboard/Stadium Voice: As one might expect at this level, the scoreboard at Hunnicutt Field is of the standard "high school" variety, which only posts basic game information. However, it fits with this small, neighborhood park, and that isn't a bad thing.

The team's PA announcer is good as well, and the music runs towards standard stadium/arena selections. The park has very good acoustics as well, even in the picnic area under the main grandstand.

Stadium Staff: Wonderful! Everyone I encountered, from GM Jim Holland, to his staff, to the folks behind the counter at Roscoe's Grille, were nothing less than incredibly hospitable and pleasant.

Atmosphere: As this was a game being played for the "Mercer Cup", a series between the Rays and their Mercer County rivals, the Bluefield Blue Jays, there were fans representing both teams, which gave the game a bit more of an "intensity". However, there was nothing but good sportsmanship, and other than some good natured heckling of the opposing players, it was a friendly rivalry.

Stadium Features: Along the fence in right center field, there is a large banner featuring images of all the current and former Tampa Bay Rays players who got their starts in Princeton.

Overall Rating: I love Hunnicutt Field. In terms of value, stadium amenities, a good atmosphere, and a staff that exudes hospitality, I can't say enough about my experience there. I will absolutely make a return trip to Princeton, hopefully in the near future.