- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

PULASKI, Va. — Past boarded gas stations long-since closed, near storefronts desperate for attention and across from modest two-bedroom single-family homes is Calfee Park.

They have played baseball there since 1942. Former major leaguers Mike Schmidt, David Justice, and Steve Avery have pitched or hit on this diamond dropped into the western edge of Pulaski, Virginia, home to 9,000 residents.

Most buildings in town don’t rise above a single level. Vacant, gravel-strewn lots fill spaces between businesses like Jim Dandy Auto Service and the OK Barber Shop, anchored out front by a still and sun-faded pole. Economic challenges have turned Pulaski into a place for leaving, if you can.


PHOTOS: Baseball in Pulaski: A town and its team


In late August, much of the town is scented by fresh-cut grass. There may not be many jobs in Pulaski these days, but there is baseball and plenty of grass. Next year, the grass may be alone.

The Pulaski Mariners, a rookie-level team filled with teenagers, are waiting to hear from the Seattle Mariners. Their contract with the major league club from the Pacific Northwest ends this year, ending a relationship between the locales that began in 2008.

Incoming owner David Hagan, left, stands with outgoing owner, Wayne Carpenter, in front of the original entrance to Calfee Park. Hagan and a business partner, Larry Shelor, purchased the park from Carpenter and his business partners, Tom Compton and Rick Mansell, who had operated the park for 25 years. The original entrance to the stadium dates back to 1935, when the park first opened as the Pulaski Athletic Field and was used primarily as a football stadium.
Incoming owner David Hagan, left, stands with outgoing owner, Wayne Carpenter, in ... more >

That’s why incoming co-owner David Hagan of the Shelor Motor Mile group is looking at his phone over and over in between bites of pulled pork. The last week of the season has begun, and he’s hoping to receive a decision from the Mariners. Seattle assistant general manager Jeff Kingston has sent Hagan brief, non-committal messages. The big club is considering moving closer to the Northwest — perhaps into the Pioneer League, if it even keeps a team at this bottom-feeding level of professional baseball.

A local who claims to have played for the team when it was the Pulaski Counts — a tale as unlikely as 70-plus years of professional baseball in Pulaski — checks with Hagan for an update. Hagan offers hope, but no news. He looks back at his phone.

Baseball is about the only entertainment option in this five-square-mile town. As factories closed, so did storefronts. The park was built in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration, an agency of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, initially hosting football games, fairs and exhibitions before having a full-time baseball team in 1942. Teams have come and gone since. Stability, of the town and for baseball, continues to be fleeting.

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At a plastic table out of the unrelenting sun, co-owner Wayne Carpenter, 67, explains why it’s time for him to move on. He and four others formed Pulaski Baseball Inc. and bought the team 25 years ago. They put in $1,500 each for the purchase.

Owners at this level of baseball aren’t really owners. They’re more administrators. They lease the park from the town. They run ticket sales, parking, concessions and promotions. The parent team handles the baseball costs.

The idea, Carpenter says, was to run the team so it comes close to breaking even. A family-friendly environment was the focus, as was a reasonable cost for a night at the ballpark.

Carpenter was a banker. One of his customers asked if he might be interested in buying operational control of the team. That’s how his involvement began.

“We’re not in this for profit,” Carpenter said. “We’re not in this because we think we’re going to get rich doing it.”

His love of baseball began well prior. After playing from the days when he was little until a stint in independent leagues following college baseball, Carpenter had baseball pressed into his system in part by the small-time team in his home of Hot Springs, Virginia. The team in Hot Springs was a mix of independent and industrial players, the same formula that initially brought a team to Pulaski.

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