Monday, July 18, 2016

Danville Braves 5 at Bristol Pirates 0 (Appalachian League) - July 17, 2016

The town of Bristol is most famous in the sporting world for its speedway that hosts two NASCAR races every year, but it also home to an Appalachian League team. Well, that is kind of true. Bristol lies on the Virginia-Tennessee border, with the speedway residing in the Volunteer State, while Boyce Cox Field, home of the Bristol Pirates, is in the Commonwealth. Thus the two towns are technically separate entities. Still, that doesn't change the fact that you can do a track tour in the morning and see some decent baseball in the evening.

The ballpark is part of a small sports complex just off Euclid Avenue about a mile north of State Street, which is also the border between the two states. The full name of the facility is Boyce Cox Field at DeVault Memorial Stadium and it is also used by the local high school for both football and baseball. The stadium was opened in 1969, and has a capacity of 2,000, though many fans choose to bring their own chairs and sit apart from the seating bowl atop a hill (view below).

There is a parking lot in front of a football stadium, with the ballpark up a tree-lined path behind the gridiron. There is a golf cart that takes disabled fans back and forth.

The very quaint ticket booth is in the parking lot, and opens about an hour before the game.

Tickets are $5 for general admission, and $8 for reserved seats. Once inside, you can upgrade to the reserved seats if you wish, just ask one of the ushers. I found a GA ticket on the ground while wandering around before the game, so stuck with that, but I did overhear that if you do upgrade, you have to sit in a seat with blue tape rather than orange, as several of the reserved seats belong to season ticket holders.

Just inside the gate is where you should pick up a program for $2; you will get a lucky number ticket with it and prizes are drawn throughout the game. The program contains a baseball bingo card with the instructions inside, but numbers were not announced during the game and I never heard if anyone actually won.

The reserved seats are three or four rows of box seats around the plate (above) while the GA sections comprise concrete grandstands along first base (below) and behind home plate, and metal benches down the third base line. There are some very large trees on the top of the hill, so all of third base and most of the seats behind home are well shaded by the time the game starts.

However, the sun shines into the first base benches for much of the evening, so those seats are mostly empty. On the plus side, they lack protective netting, so if you want clear views, this is your best bet,  if you don’t mind the sun. The photo below was taken around 8 pm, by which time the sun had mostly disappeared. You can also see below how the third base benches extend down the left field line and the far end is also free from obstructions, but home plate is quite distant from here.

Bristol was the location where Ron Necciai struck out 27 batters in a Class D league game in 1952, and that feat is commemorated here.

There is also an empty seat set apart to honour prisoners of war and those missing in action.

One touch I like is seeing banners for all 10 Appy League teams displayed on a fence atop the hill, separated by division. That's the East Division below. Go Blue Jays!

Concessions are cheap but there is not much variety. A pulled pork sandwich with fries and a drink was the best option at $5, though this was a Sunday special and might not be available every day. You can bring your own food and there are fast food chains nearby, which might be a better choice. Or you can just wait until after the game and head downtown, where there are a number of decent bars and restaurants, including Macado's, famous for its sandwiches.

The Home Run Alley is a small bar on the third base side that serves cheap suds. The view from here is a bit blocked by the railing above the third base grandstand, but this is a good place to stop for a couple of innings. Note that both the reserved and grandstand sections behind home plate are alcohol-free.

Overall, this might be my favourite venue in the league so far. There is no actual stadium structure, just grandstands, the press box (below), and the souvenir stand. I like the open plan as it allows a breeze to blow through occasionally, and you can move around easily without distracting other fans. If you are in town to see the speedway, check out the Pirates schedule to see if you can complete the rare racing-baseball doubleheader.

The Game

Kolby Allard (14th overall pick in 2015, already Atlanta’s #4 prospect and 77th overall) started for visiting Danville while Ike Schlabach (19th round in 2015) was the Pirates pitcher. Allard was as good as you would expect from such a high draft pick, though he got into a bit of trouble in the 3rd, giving up a leadoff single to Sam Kennelly (undrafted out of Perth, Australia). Yoel Gonzalez tried for a sacrifice but Allard threw wild allowing Kennelly to third. Allard was unfazed by his error though, impressively striking out the next three batters to keep the game scoreless. Allard completed six innings scattering 4 hits while striking out 7, definitely earning my Player to Watch award.

Meanwhile, Schlabach was matching his much richer mound opponent, yielding just one hit plus a walk and hit batsman through four frames. Trey Keegan (14th, 2015) led off the 5th with a single and Ryan O’Malley (25th, 2016) walked. After a sacrifice, the Braves executed the squeeze play, with Marcus Mooney (10th, 2016) laying down a perfect bunt as Keegan raced home. Mooney beat the throw to first as well, but was stranded as Schlabach finished five innings with just the lone blemish on his record. Sadly for the home fans, that was all Danville needed as three relievers each pitched perfect innings while their offense added three unearned runs in the 7th with the highlight a monster double from Brett Cumberland (2nd, 2016, rounding first above) that scored Mooney. O’Malley homered in the 8th to complete the scoring as Danville won 5-0 as you can see on the very basic scoreboard below.

With the win, Allard improved to 3-0 with an ERA under 2. He is a "smaller" guy at 6'1, 180 and pitched 12 innings in Class A this season, giving up 11 runs, so he probably needs a bit more seasoning in Rookie League. He doesn't turn 19 until next month, so expect to hear more from him in the future.


I did do the Bristol Motor Speedway tour and will post on that separately after the trip.

Next Up

I’m finishing up this trip with three games all within a few miles of each other in northeast Tennessee. Tonight the Bluefield Blue Jays visit the Greeneville Astros, so check back tomorrow for a recap.



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