The Pulaski Yankees (Rookie; Appalachian League) continue to modernize their historic home, as the 2019 season brings major upgrades to Motor Mile Field at Calfee Park.
In the lead-up to this month’s start of the Appalachian League season, Calfee Park has been undergoing a major renovation on its third-base side. Construction has expanded the ballpark down the left-field line, with the new amenities highlighted by a party deck that includes drink rails. Along with that upgrade, the ballpark has received a new concourse, concession areas, seating, and a walk-in souvenir store.
Plans for the upgrades were first announced late last summer, before being updated earlier this year. With construction on track to be completed well ahead of Opening Day, the Yankees are seeing considerable anticipation from their fan base, thanks to active previews of the renovations through social media.
“We’ve already seen such a great response from everyone,” said Yankees general manager Betsy Haugh. “We’ve been doing a transformation Tuesday weekly series on Facebook showcasing the renovations since February, and the reaction we’ve been getting on that is awesome. [Last week] we did one about the souvenir store, because we also added a walk-in souvenir store that was recently completed, and the reaction to that has been overwhelmingly positive, as has the excitement that’s been building for the party deck and the new concourse area.”
Over the last few seasons, ballpark upgrades to both fan and player amenities and a stable affiliation with the New York Yankees have helped fuel Pulaski’s success. The club has led the Appalachian League in attendance in each of the past four seasons, including a league record-setting total of 91,226 fans last season.
The renovations will help the Yankees in several areas, bringing further refinement to the gameday experience at Calfee Park. Items such as Dippin’ Dots and Papa John’s Pizza are part of the concessions slate this season, and the addition of the party deck will allow for a wider variety of beer to be served at the ballpark. It will also help increase total capacity, fulfilling what has become been an increasing need at Calfee Park.
“Our largest crowd ever was 4,068 on the final game of the year last year, and a lot of that comes with these standing-room areas, which we’ll continue to incorporate,” Haugh said. “Some of them more so by design this year like with drink rails, or on the party deck, the kid’s zone, all kinds of places like that where folks can gather together and enjoy the game in a little more casual setting rather than sitting in a seatback.”
Upgrades to Calfee Park have been a major part of the Yankees’ strategy for the past few seasons, going back to 2015. A new videoboard, upgraded player facilities and seating upgrades have been part of the previous upgrades, and the most recent additions should build on those improvements.
That process has essentially modernized what is one of Minor League Baseball’s most historic facilities. Opening in 1935 as a Works Progress Administration project, Calfee Park is the oldest ballpark in the Appalachian League and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Throughout the process of upgrading the facility, the Yankees have tried to be mindful of the ballpark’s historic nature while simultaneously modernizing its amenities.
“That’s been something of a focus for us in the five years that we’ve been owned by the Shelor Motor Mile Corporation,” said Haugh. “We really love the history that comes with this ballpark, but we know that in order for us to be able to house professional baseball in 2019, that the amenities need to be there both for the players and for the fans. We have always kept an eye on both; what we can do to keep that historical side but also what we can do to make it as modern as possible so that people enjoy the atmosphere of being here. I think we’ve done a really good job of that, in that we still have our old historic entrance, we still have some older elements of the ballpark, but we’re adding these new things like a party deck that really help bring the ballpark into the 21st century as well.”
Prior to the 2015 season, there was uncertainty about the future of professional baseball in Pulaski, but solid ownership and a stable affiliation with New York have been catalysts for turning around the franchise’s fortunes. Achieving that turnaround has required substantial investments in time and money in taking care of Calfee Park’s facilities and has now shifted toward improving fan amenities. Now with the latest upgrades in place, and yet-to-be-announced plans for the further improvements in 2020 taking shape, Haugh and the Yankees feel that they are well positioned for the future.
“A lot of the first renovations we did were directed toward the clubhouse, the press box, things focused on the game operations themselves,” she said. “We’ve been fortunate to really do well with those renovations, and of course keep an eye on things that are needed and upgrades that need to be continually made for continued maintenance. But in the last couple of years, the focus has really shifted on what we can do for the fans. I think that’s the direction we’re going, and of course we still have a great relationship with New York and we’ll continue to do everything that we can to ensure that what they want in the clubhouses are there, and what the PBA dictates and requires and all of that is taken care of. But since we have such a strong foundation in place with those facilities at the ballpark, we are really able to invest time and funds into what can help make it a better place for fans to come enjoy baseball.”
Image courtesy Pulaski Yankees.
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