For all intents and purposes, there should not be professional baseball played at DeVault Memorial Stadium-affiliated or independent. Just one look of this misfit structure makes you wonder how on earth minor league baseball is still prevalent in Bristol, Va., in the 21st century. Although the ballpark may not be pleasing to the eye at first, one may need to use their other senses once they enter inside. The home of the Bristol White Sox of the Appalachian League may not be the anomaly you think it is.
In Bristol, one does not get a glimmer of the stadium until they drop off their ticket in a bucket and walk down a short corridor pass the city’s football stadium. Once they enter the ball field’s concourse, a sense of surrealism takes place. On the third base side exist metal bleachers; the opposite side features asphalted covered concrete seating that is akin to youth scaling the local elementary school roof for a lost ball. Five feet above home plate are a small row of reserved seating that are guarded unpityingly by the parks’ ushers (much to my enjoyment).
Fans line up in their lawn chairs and blankets on the hill, or grass bank, that is tiered leveled behind the third base line. The natural hill extends all the way down the foul line that can be filled with little kids chasing after the elusive foul ball (I even told a couple of youths that their odds were better in this area as opposed to the right field line where foul balls wind up on the adjacent football field that is locked for the season). The grass seating area is mammoth and nestles itself nicely among the rest of the stadium’s seating areas.
The best features at DeVault Stadium are the fans in attendance that have the luxury of having affiliated ball in their small town that borders both Virginia and Tennessee. There is a dedicated brass who knows the players, cheers for rallies and chat amongst one another when one of the players makes the occasional rookie mistake on the base paths or disagrees with the umpire’s call. If their team is not winning, then they sit in angst through a 12-1 drubbing at the hands of the nearby rival Greeneville Astros. These are baseball purist who more than likely know the players by their first names and would snub their noses at anyone saying an ounce of negativity towards their team.
Bristol White Sox’s president and GM Mahlon Luttrell does not see any drastic changes to the facility in the foreseeable future; he stated that the team looks to add additional reserve seating and improvements to the playing field.
“They [fans] enjoy the bank where they can sit and watch the game in a fan friendly atmosphere,” added Lutrell. “The atmosphere is typical in most of the stadiums in the Appalachian League. We have older stadiums, rich in history and you never know who will be the next Cal Ripken, Jr., coming through.”
If they are not in the stands watching the game, they are copying the night’s lineup or grabbing food at the small concession that sits below the press box and next to the novelty store. The kids are chasing foul balls or running around with friends: sights and sounds that exist at your normal minor league ballpark. What DeVault Memorial Stadium lacks in aesthetics, more than makes up for it in ambiance. The unique scenario that exists in the Appalachian Mountains has resulted in one of minor league’s baseball pleasant ironies.
One has to smile in amusement as time marches on in a slow, steady beat in Bristol. A town that is known more for its NASCAR race than its devotion to a minor league baseball club, should be noticed as ardent supporters of the national past time. Minor league baseball needs more towns like Bristol and many more exist across the dotted map of this country; however, for every Bristol exists an Oneonta, N.Y.; Augusta, N.J; Kinston, N.C.; and Bristol, CT; places that no longer fit the bill as low level minor league towns. Franchises will relocate, modern ballparks assembled and new cities will appear on the map, but it may not affect baseball here at DeVault Memorial Stadium.
Marc Viquez is a contributing author for Ballpark Business (www.ballparkbiz.com). A fan of baseball for most of his life, Marc has been traveling around the country writing about minor league baseball since 2001 for various websites and print publications. When he is not searching down a ballpark, he can be found teaching middle school in Indianapolis, Indiana.