Before David Hagan bought the rights to the Appalachian League franchise in Pulaski, Va., he needed to know what kind of project he was undertaking. He knew that Calfee Park was in disrepair, and that the first step to turning around the franchise would be through a series of costly renovations. To gather the scale, however, he needed to do some reconnaissance work.
|Bob Freitas Awards|
|1989 Eugene (Northwest)|
|1990 Salt Lake City (Pioneer)|
|1991 Spokane (Northwest)|
|1992 Boise (Northwest)|
|1993 Billings (Pioneer)|
|1994 Everett (Northwest)|
|1995 Great Falls (Pioneer)|
|1996 Bluefield (Appalachian)|
|1997 Oneonta (New York-Penn)|
|1998 Hudson Valley (New York-Penn)|
|1999 Portland (Northwest)|
|2000 Lowell (New York-Penn)|
|2001 Salem-Keizer (Northwest)|
|2002 Ogden (Pioneer)|
|2003 Spokane (Northwest)|
|2004 Burlington (Appalachian)|
|2005 Brooklyn (New York-Penn)|
|2006 Aberdeen (New York-Penn)|
|2007 Missoula (Pioneer)|
|2008 Greeneville (Appalachian)|
|2009 Tri-City (New York-Penn)|
|2010 Idaho Falls (Pioneer)|
|2011 Vancouver (Northwest)|
|2012 Billings (Pioneer)|
|2013 State College (New York-Penn)|
|2014 Brooklyn (New York-Penn)|
|2015 Grand Junction (Pioneer)|
|2016 Pulaski (Appalachian)|
"Originally when we took over the operation and acquired the rights, we bought the rights to have a team there . . . I went up and talked to the Appalachian League about building at least a visitor's clubhouse, it was just so bad." he said. "During that period of time, I went to every game and just observed and tried to figure out how we could operate it and make it better. Quite honestly, I was a bit disappointed in what I saw there. I didn't feel like it was adequate, and I felt like they would probably end up losing baseball."
In the two seasons since Hagan acquired Pulaski, however, he has worked to reshape the team's image. Calfee Park has been significantly renovated, with the most striking addition being a 22.5-foot by 35-foot video board. Suites, VIP areas, expanded seating and new parking lots were added. The total cost to upgrade the park before the 2015 season eclipsed $7 million.
That investment hasn't gone unnoticed. The club has led the Appy League in attendance in both seasons since Hagan took over. Their two-year total is 115,018, or an average of 1,769 fans a game. By comparison, the team averaged just 818 fans per game in its final season with Seattle.
League president Lee Landers has taken notice, too, as the once-downtrodden club has risen to the ranks of the league's best.
"It's a very well-run club from the top on down," Landers said. "Mr. Hagan purchased the ballpark from the city of Pulaski to keep baseball there, because Pulaski didn't have the financial means to get the stadium to meet facility standards from Minor League Baseball and also the league. He's done a marvelous job and he's a competitor in everything that he does. He doesn't take second place or third place in anything."
Hagan faced a quandary shortly after he acquired the team's operating rights. The Mariners made the decision to leave Pulaski and shrink their farm system by one team, leaving Hagan's new club without an affiliate. To attract a new club, Hagan had to get busy quickly. He identified a few major problems, namely the lack of a hotel in town and the inadequacies of the park as a whole. To keep baseball in Pulaski, they had to address those concerns immediately.
So Hagan purchased Calfee Park from the city outright and agreed to build a hotel, the Jackson Park Inn, to accommodate the players and their families during the Appy League's three-month season. The team's players are the hotel's sole residents during the summer, and afterward it reverts into a place for out-of-town residents to stay.
"We feel like we've done whatever it takes to please the Yankees, and they seem to be very pleased," Hagan said. "We're glad to do it and it's been a tremendous boost for the community."
Even after all the changes, Hagan isn't done. The outfield at Calfee Park is being torn up, with the bluegrass being replaced with Bermuda grass. More seating is being added as well, and Hagan eventually wants to increase the park's capacity by 1,000.
He may not be done, but Hagan's time and effort already have drastically reversed the fortunes of baseball in Pulaski.