PULASKI, Va. – The Pulaski Yankees are setting record after record at Calfee Park. It's not the most wins in team history, but wins and losses aren't everything as their other successes are having a ripple effect in the area.
It wouldn't be a summer night in Pulaski without checking the lineup board and catching a game at Calfee Park. A few years ago, that experience was threatened, but now it's back and stronger than ever.
In the town of Pulaski, things have changed. However, a night at the ballpark is one thing that hasn't.
"Pulaski has struggled as a whole throughout the years," Pulaski Yankees General Manager Christina Edney said. "I'm from Pulaski, I've seen the ups and downs, but right now there's this interesting resurgence."
Five years ago, Minor League Baseball was giving up on the town. The stadium wasn't up to par. The field needed work. The player facilities weren't the best. That's when local businessman David Hagan, known for his work with the Shelor group, bought the park and promised big changes. He courted the Yankees, promising the best of the best, in a last-ditch effort to make sure Calfee didn't lose its team. Getting a team and making much-needed upgrades would lock this baseball family together, and it worked.
"These people, you know them, you enjoy them, they enjoy what's happening here," Hagan said. "Personally, it's the most rewarding project I've ever had."
Wednesday night was Agriculture Night at the ballpark, one of the number of promotions the team came up with to draw crowds in. They have to get creative. They even had a meme night where players wore memes on their jerseys. Minor league baseball, especially for a team in the Appalachian League, is about the fan experience.
Fans at Agriculture Night got quite the experience as players donned cow face jerseys on the field. There was a petting zoo; a live calf was trotted out onto the field. The biggest attraction of the night was the raffle. For $10, you could get a ticket to win a cow yourself. You get the cow live or frozen, the local 4-H gets money in its pocket. It's a win-win for a community that is built on the backbone of being a small town. When you think about fans at a New York Yankees game in the Bronx, some of them have probably never even seen a cow in real life. But here in Southwest Virginia, a cow raffle is how you get people in seats.
The efforts to build a great product aren't going unnoticed. This year the team set a home attendance record for the stadium, packing 3,592 people in for a single game. The Appalachian League season attendance record was set by the Danville Braves in 1993 with 80,529 people. The Pulaski Yankees broke that, sitting at 82,069 with games still left to go. The community around the stadium is benefiting in a big way.
"We're seeing properties bought up, homes being bought up, and revitalization of our community," Pulaski Deputy Town Manager Nichole Hair said. "I think it's a strong indication that the Yankees are having a big impact in that opportunity."
Fan experience at Calfee Park got better and better over the last few years and new upgrades were made. Now, even more upgrades are on deck. The stadium is getting another overhaul. The team is working toward making more promotions, more creative hooks to get people in the door. Team leaders are putting the town on their shoulders, taking pride in being a point of pride, and setting the bar high.
"Pulaski is growing and changing in a way that it hasn't in several years." Edney said. "So fans coming out here, it's not just supporting Calfee Park, it's supporting Pulaski County, the town of Pulaski and our area."
The Pulaski Yankees wrap up their home section of the 2018 season Friday night, with first pitch at 7 o'clock. The team expects the park to be packed for another standing room only crowd.
"We really found that people are interested in supporting Pulaski and when you come to Calfee Park, you're supporting Pulaski as a whole," Edney said. "It's not just the players, it's not just the park, it's the entire community."