Built in 1935, Calfee Park in Pulaski is one of the oldest ballparks in the nation that is still filling the stands with fans. In its history, the park has held horse shows, fairs, other sports games and community events. The year 2020 marked another change at Calfee Park, as its longtime baseball team was rebranded as part of a restructuring of the Appalachian League.
The Pulaski River Turtles (formerly the Pulaski Yankees) will bring another season of top baseball talent to Calfee Park for the 2021 summer season. The 10-team Appalachian League is now part of a joint initiative of Major League Baseball and USA Baseball. It will showcase more than 300 top college freshman and sophomore players from across the nation in wood-bat play. Under the new league, the team is no longer a minor league affiliate.
J.W. Martin, general manager of Calfee Park, assumed this role late last fall. He says that the new team name represents the park’s commitment to the family-friendly environment it has cultivated in the New River Valley. After taking feedback from the community, the team landed on River Turtles. The new identity was created with young fans in mind. And while the structure of the team has changed, Calfee Park will remain a staple in the New River Valley in the upcoming season packed with 27 home games.
“We are not reinventing the wheel; we are continuing to move forward, building on past seasons and those successes,” Martin explains. “Whether it’s our Appalachian League program or the special events we put on this summer, fans who have enjoyed Calfee Park in seasons past can expect exactly the same thing.”
Calfee Park was built as a field for various community events under a New Deal program following the Great Depression. Because of its rich history, the park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. While the park has been updated through the years, its original features have remained intact. A historic sprawling stone wall marks the park’s entrance.
“I am focused on continuing to build on the very solid foundation of this park,” Martin continues. “We have constructed a great reputation, and we have a wonderful family-friendly atmosphere. A lot of folks come out to enjoy what we have going on at Calfee Park.”
While the team’s season was canceled last year because of covid-19, Calfee Park held unique events that brought the park back to its origins as a multi-use facility. This year, Martin relates, the park plans to bring back many of the successful events it has held — some unrelated to baseball. Additionally, the park will hold youth travel team games. The calendar, which will be officially announced online this spring, is marked for approximately 50 dates at Calfee Park. Additionally, the park has added 750 more seats. “We will have more events on the calendar than we had in seasons past,” he adds.
The season also will draw players, coaches and a new manager to the New River Valley for the summer. Clark Crist, manager for the River Turtles, spent years playing professional baseball and working as a Major League Baseball scout. He is bringing his insight to the Pulaski River Turtles for its inaugural season under the restructured league and new name.
The staff and roster will be released later this spring, but Crist says coaches will be stepping in from the professional ranks, and the players will continue bringing high-caliber baseball to Pulaski. He also plans to encourage coaches and players to get involved in the community during the season.
“I want people to know I am absolutely excited to be here,” states Crist, an Arizona native who will spend the season in Pulaski. “I am looking forward to the challenge. I see it as an opportunity to build something, and to be a part of that is special. I want the players to realize that it’s an opportunity for the first time; let’s take advantage of that and make it the best league we can and make it enjoyable to the fans so that they want to come see us play.”
Despite the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and state restrictions, the 54-game season with potential playoffs is set to start June 5 and end August 7. It includes slightly fewer games than past years, but Martin thinks it will be a more favorable schedule for everyone. So far, the indicators including ticket sales are tracking with 2019 levels, and he feels optimistic.
“It’s exciting that the Appalachian League has survived a very tumultuous 2020,” Martin declares. “We are in a position to grow in new ways, and I think once we get fans back in the stands, and our season gets underway, everyone will enjoy themselves and it will be back to baseball as usual here at the park.”
Text by Emma Beaver
Photos courtesy of the Pulaski River Turtles