In part due to the creation of retro style ballparks, baseball has been experiencing a renaissance for several years now, with no signs of slowing down. Attendance and profits at major league and minor league baseball games continues to show an upward trend, and the desire by many to visit these new ballparks appears endless. Lost in this renaissance, at least in terms of building new facilities, is the Appalachian League.
Founded in 1937, the Appalachian League has been a place where many draftees get their first taste of professional baseball, and while the facilities may not be what dreams are made of, they are very enjoyable and relaxing places to attend a professional game. Boyce Cox Field was built in 1969 to house the rookie league team for the Detroit Tigers (Bristol Tigers), providing the town with a franchise for the first time since 1955. Since that time, Bristol has remained one of the more popular franchises in the league and has since become affiliated with the White Sox (Bristol White Sox).
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and beverage offerings at Boyce Cox Field are similar to what you would find at most Rookie League games. You'll have the basic selection of items to choose from, but at a rate significantly lower than most major league or Triple-A ballparks. Food items available at the concession stand include hot dogs ($1), pizza ($2), Chick-fil-A sandwiches ($3.50), and nachos ($2.50). Snacks are also the standard fare, highlighted by peanuts ($2.50), cotton candy ($2), Sweet Frog frozen yogurt ($3), candy ($1), and pickles ($1). Pepsi products and Gatorade are available ($2) along with bottles of water ($1).
One noted benefit of purchasing food & drink items at the game is that all proceeds go to the Virginia High School 'Bearcat' Band. This is always welcomed and should be a factor when deciding whether to eat before the game or at the game. You might even spot a player or two wandering from the dugout before the game to grab a bite to eat.
Boyce Cox Field offers one of the more interesting seating bowls in Minor League Baseball, which should be noted prior to attending a game here. The Reserved Box seating ($6) includes the first four rows of the ballpark from dugout to dugout and includes individual seats similar to what you'll find at most stadiums and arenas. One minor drawback is that there are no cup holders available, so any drinks that you purchase will need to be placed carefully on the ground.
The remainder of the ballpark is General Admission seating ($4 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-12, and free for children under 5) and is a collection of different seating arrangements. Behind home plate and the first base side is a number of rows made of concrete and nothing else. If you're a regular or are reading this review, you will know ahead of time to bring a seat cushion or folded seatback chair, but most others simply choose to sit on the concrete. Also, the steps are a little bit steep and don't feel particularly safe, so use caution when sitting in this area. Behind the third base side are metal bleachers, which are laid out similar to most sandlot or high school ballparks. Also located behind the general admission seating on the third base side is a grassy hill, which offers fans the opportunity to bring folded chairs and/or blankets to relax and watch the game. If you're not purchasing reserved seating, this would be the preferred way to enjoy the game.
Bristol is unique, in that it is a twin city. When driving to the metropolitan area you will find both a Bristol, VA and Bristol, TN. While Boyce Cox Field is located on the Virginia side, both cities have enjoyable attractions to see during your visit.
From a tourism standpoint, Bristol is most widely known for the Bristol Motor Speedway, a race track on the Tennessee side that is most famous for its NASCAR races and pre-race tailgates. Any sports fan visiting this area should take a few moments to stop by and see what some consider the heart of NASCAR. Others come to Bristol for its role in the advent of country music, and attractions such as the ACMA Mountain Music Museum and Birthplace of Country Music Museum offer visitors to learn a little bit about the musical genre and the town's role in making it what it is today. The region was once home to President Andrew Johnson, Davy Crockett, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the Appalachian Trail provides outdoors buffs a chance to enjoy the scenery.
There will be plenty of things to keep visitors occupied prior to attending a Bristol White Sox game.
Fans at Bristol White Sox games fall in line with other minor league cities. They enjoy having baseball in the summer and will follow the game at a casual pace. For Appalachian Rookie League games, it is not uncommon to have attendance numbers under 1,000 per game, and on the night of this review, that was the case. Because of the size of the facility, though, it doesn't have the feel of an empty ballpark.
The scoreboard is a standard high school/collegiate type, with the display of runs per inning, runs/hits/errors, and balls/strikes/outs. For those that want to keep score, the team offers a program ($2), complete with a score sheet and player roster.
Getting to Boyce Cox Field is easy. The park is located off of the main thoroughfare in town (US Highway 11) and is a short drive from the interstate. Parking is free and readily available at Boyce Cox Field. Upon arriving and purchasing a ticket, there is a short walk from the ticket booth to the seating bowl. For those with special needs, an employee riding around in a golf cart will take you from Point A to Point B.
Along the walkway, you'll pass by a plaque honoring Ronald Necciai, the only player in the history of professional baseball to throw a no hitter along with 27 strikeouts. This feat was accomplished in Bristol, VA on May 13, 1952, when the club was the Class D Bristol Twins.
There are two restroom facilities in the ballpark, one down the first base side and one down the third base side. Because of the size and standard attendance at Boyce Cox Field, long lines should rarely, if ever, become an issue when attending a game.
If you have an opportunity to park your car, buy a game ticket, and purchase basic concessions at a professional baseball game for under $20, that is a deal. To experience this in a relaxed but enjoyable setting makes it that much more desirable. On the night I attended this game, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun had barely set when the game was completed, affording me beautiful sunset views with the Appalachian Mountains out towards the distance in left field. An Appalachian League game is reminiscent of baseball from times gone by, and Bristol's version is a perfect example of a fun night out at the ballpark.
The team has a rather nice souvenir stand for those wanting to take home a memento from the game. The selection of items offered, the quality of these items, and the pricing are all a nice surprise, and are a part of the affordable yet enjoyable Bristol White Sox experience.
Between the home plate seating and third base seating is one seatback chair that is cordoned off. This is in tribute to the veterans who have fought in wars past and present.
More than any league I've attended, the Appalachian League has the look and feel of a throwback league. The need to create modern facilities complete with plush seating, skyboxes, and gigantic scoreboards isn't there. Less is more, and the focus is on the field of play. You'll find that sense of community that is often talked about when fans reminisce of baseball from the glory days, and Bristol's Boyce Cox Field is as good a place as any to take in a game that will remind you of such days.
Bristol sits on the border between Tennessee and Virginia, and is known as the Birthplace of Country Music. Like many ballparks found in the Appalachian League, Boyce Cox Field (also known as DeVault Memorial Stadium) is devoid of any bells or whistles. Well, some fans may have bells. But the point is, this stadium is all about the baseball, so sit back and enjoy.
The team in Bristol has been affiliated with the Chicago White Sox since 1995. Prior to that time, the team was affiliated with the Detroit Tigers from 1969-1994. With that kind of history, you know there have been several superstars to come through Bristol on the way to the Majors. That list includes Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and Lance Parrish from during the days with the Tigers. Current MLB players like Carlos Lee, Freddy Garcia, Gio Gonzalez, and Chris Young once put on the Bristol Sox uniforms.
The ballpark sits on the site of a former high school football stadium, which leaves behind some interesting concrete bleachers that are less than ideal for sitting through a game, but are certainly unique.
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