Boyce Cox (1925-2007)

First Baseman, 1943 Bristol Twins (New York Giants)
President and General Manager, Bristol Baseball, Inc.

When we first started the process of setting up these baseball road trips, it was a process of checking Baseball America’s Directory, various roadmaps, and other tour books trying to map out the ideal trip where we could see as many games as possible and as many tourist sites that we could squeeze it on the way to the next game. Once the trip was laid out, the next step was all the phone calls to make the reservations and buy the tickets. There weren’t that many websites and computer speeds to accurately and easily accomplish something other than e-mail was a major hindrance. Today, it is much easier to get everything accomplished; it takes hours now, when it use to take days. However, doing a good deal of the work via phone (and yes, we are talking about hard wired landlines), we got to talk to several characters.

One such character was Mr. Boyce Cox of Bristol Baseball Incorporated (BBI). BBI is the operating organization that oversees minor league baseball in the Greater Bristol, Virginia, and Tennessee area. At the time, the team was the Bristol Sox, the Advanced Rookie affiliate of the Chicago White Sox in the Appalachian League. As of 2014, they are an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

But in 2001, the Bristol Sox were on our list of teams to see and when Dan called their office to request two tickets “behind home plate as close as we can get,” he got the tickets, but he also got quite a surprise. When he called the number for the Bristol Sox, a man answered the phone and Dan asked for the ticket office as he usually does. The man who answered said in a fine Eastern Tennessee/Western Virginia drawl, “I’m it, what can I do for you.” Dan requested two tickets for the July 21st game against the Johnson City Cardinals; the man then informed Dan that he could get them at the box office prior to the game.

Dan was somewhat taken aback because this was the first time that he was not able to pre-order the tickets. He informed the man that we were coming all the way down from New York to watch the Sox play and we just wanted to be sure we could get seats. The gentleman said that since they didn’t take credit cards, they couldn’t sell advance tickets that way. Dan then asked how one could get tickets ahead of time, other than just showing up at the ticket office. The man said, “This was just the way we do it here.” Again, Dan pushed a little, explaining that since we were traveling so far, we didn’t want to find the game sold out.

With that the gentleman, just chuckled a bit and said, “Son, the game won’t be sold out, but if you get here and it is—but it won’t be—if it is, just ask for me, Boyce Cox, and you and your wife can sit with me in the press box!” With that, Dan smiled to himself, and said, “Okay, that is a deal.” Dan thanked Mr. Cox, hung up the phone and write out a note to remember that name, Boyce Cox. Then he checked the Directory and was surprised to see that the man he was talking to was the President of Bristol Baseball and was the PA announcer—all he could think was that he was talking to the president of the management organization and that this guy answered his own phone!

On game day, we got into Bristol in the afternoon after driving down from Pulaski, West Virginia, having seen the Pulaski Rangers take on and lose to the Burlington Indians the night before. We found the parking lot for the game without any problems, though locating DeVault Memorial Stadium was another matter. The park is back away from the parking area and we had to walk along a path in a park-like area past the local football field to get to the stadium. When we got there, we learned that the field was named Boyce Cox Field after the gentleman that Dan had spoken to and who as president of the organization answers his own phone. Boyce Cox Field is a nice little park (LF 325, CF 400, RF 310), seating about 2000, but very clean and neat. What stood out to us was everyone’s kindness and politeness. The fans even clapped when someone from the Johnson City Cardinals got a homerun. Also Dan’s main note about the place was that the Chilidogs were excellent! It started out as a nice warm sunny evening for baseball, but then during the game it started to rain, and rain hard. They finally called the game in the middle of the 7th giving the win to the Johnson City 6 to 3.

As we were leaving the park, we found ourselves walking past the Press Box. We stopped and Dan turned to look in the open door. Sitting there was an older gentleman looking at some papers. Dan just took a guess, and said, “Mr. Cox?” He turned, looked up and with a smile said, “Yes.” With that Dan, in his strange way of making friends with everyone, introduced himself as the stranger on the phone from New York who was so concerned that the game would be sold out. Again, Mr. Cox smiled, saying, “I told you there wouldn’t be a problem in getting seats!” Dan replied, “Yes, sir, but we were sort of looking forward to sitting up here in the press box with you; it would have been drier.” “Not by much,” nodding at the open window of the press box.” Dan thanked him for his kindness and Mr. Cox asked if we enjoyed the game—what there was of it or at least the dry parts. We certainly had. As we walked away, Dan said, “It’s the characters like him that makes these trips so great!”

A few years later Dan saw the news release that Mr. Boyce Cox had passed away. The article spoke of how he had saved professional baseball in Bristol, how the community had honored him by naming the ball field after him, how he had served as the president of the franchise, how he also had been the team’s general manager for numerous years besides being the PA announcer. No mention was made that he played first base with the Bristol team in 1943 prior to going into the Navy during WWII. Reading all of this, we realized that Mr. Cox was more than just the president, general manager, PA announcer or even a team player many years ago. He was one of us, a character who wholly loved baseball.

Elmira Pioneers (New York)

Independent, Northeast League

Baseball has a long history in Elmira, New York, and many of the teams were known as the Pioneers. The team began play in 1865 as the Colonels in the New York State League, but two years later they became a charter member of the new New York-Penn League. The Pioneer name was first used in 1901. The name switched back and forth between the Colonels and Pioneers with the concurrent switching of leagues over several years. Then in 1932, the Colonels joined the St. Louis Cardinals organization and changed their name to the Red Wings. But it was back to the Pioneers for two unaffiliated seasons in 1935 and 1936. Except for a couple of short stints as something else (Royals, Suns, Red Sox) the Pioneers name seemed to stick through many years of different affiliations with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Athletics, St. Louis Browns, Washington Senators, Philadelphia Phillies, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, San Diego Padres, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Florida Marlins (their last major league affiliation). Who didn’t they play for?

In 1995, the owner, Clyde Smoll, moved the team to Lowell, Massachusetts, leaving Elmira without a team. An independent team, with the Northeast League, took the name of Pioneers and began play in 1996. In 2005, the Pioneers joined the Canadian-American League, but only played one more season before being “phased out” of the league. The team now using the Elmira Pioneers name is a collegiate team, which has been playing since 2006.

One problem that the Pioneers faced had been the negative outcome of an experiment. In 2002, 51 percent of the ownership was sold to a Japanese corporation who wanted to use the team to help develop Japanese players. However, the experiment was “lackluster at best.” There were few Japanese players sent to the team, and there are very few Asian people in Elmira. Therefore, fans could not identify with the players. The worst problem was that the team had to deal with foreign players’ visa issues whenever they crossed the border into Canada. So the Japanese players were often left behind when the team had to play the powerhouse Quebec team. This all helped lead to the end of professional baseball in Elmira (Diane Janowski, New York History Review).

The collegiate Pioneers still play in Dunn Field, as did the minor league team. The park was built in 1939 on the site of a former football field, Maple Avenue Driving Park, which was the site of the very first professional football night game. The park is named after Edward Joseph Dunn who donated the land for the stadium (Janowski).

We have been to the Elmira field two times: once on a trip to see the stadium after we had moved to Rochester in 1998, and once to see Jason Tuttle, a player we had kept track of for a while (see “Meeting Mr. Tuttle”). The stadium was definitely in need of some extensive work. While it was a quaint old field, it was very uncomfortable. (Not as bad as a couple other stadiums we’ve been to, but close.)

While professional baseball no longer exists in Elmira, there is still baseball and sometimes the collegiate teams put on a better show than any professional team. We encourage you to check out some of these teams. They’re the future of baseball.

History adapted from Fun While It, except where noted.


Three Seasons, Three Weeks

In the spring of 2007, both of us were on sabbatical from our respective jobs and we had moved up to the cottage in Michigan to spend our time researching and writing. But sabbatical isn’t all about work; it’s a time to rest and rejuvenate, relax and think deep thoughts. And our deepest thoughts, of course, often concern baseball. So while on sabbatical we made two minor road trips: one to the upper Midwest during June/July and the other to the deep South, during a record cold spring.

The trip began ominously enough with us outrunning a snow storm that eventually dumped 14 inches of the white stuff on the cottage and its environs. We had heard the predictions for the storm and we decided that we would leave earlier than planned, outrunning the storm by two hours. But the cold didn’t stop with the North. As we wound our way down south, the temperatures did not moderate. Even Ginny’s pen for score keeping froze and she had to keep rolling it back and forth in her gloved hands to get it to work. In Birmingham, AL, we sat through one of the coldest games we’d ever experienced—and we live in Rochester, New York! The temperature read 32o. Of course, that’s really not too very bad for us; but the locals were freezing. The woman who sat behind us, Diane Johnson, had several layers of clothing on and FOUR blankets. She and her husband, Randy, had driven over from Skipperville to see the game and were troopers about the record cold spring. They explained that they were there because they always had to see baseball early since being deprived of it all winter. Diane asked us how we could tolerate the cold with only our two layers of clothing and one thin blanket each. We smiled and told her that up North in our neck of the woods, the Rochester Red Wings were trying to use a Zamboni to clear the outfield. (The baseball season at Frontier Field ended up starting two weeks late because of the snow and cold.) So we were happy to be in the balmy South, even at 32 degrees.

As we made our way south, the temperatures slowly began to moderate, and while it was still a little cooler than normal for the South, the beautiful bright days and the warming made the trip lovely. The scenery of lush green trees and grass was a treat for us, coming from the color-starved wintry North, and we marveled at how summer-like it looked already.

By the time we reached New Orleans—about ten days into the trip—the extreme cold had cleared out of the South and we were back into shorts, at least during the daylight hours. We had come to New Orleans to attend a College English Association national conference at which we were presenting a paper on the use of travel narratives in college writing classes (of course, we used memoirs from our baseball trips—some of which are now included here). NOLA (New Orleans, LA, for those of you who don’t know the shorthand) was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina that had hit there some year and a half before. But the resiliency of the city was also obvious. Clean up was taking place in many locations. Houses were being torn down and others were being put up. We marveled over the efforts of the city to spring back after such devastation. Still, we enjoyed the lovely summer-like weather as we strolled through the French Quarter and had beignets at Café Monde.

We made a trip to the Zephyr’s ball park a day early to make sure we knew where it was for the game the next day. While we were there, we went to the office to pick up our tickets. When we asked whether the team store was open yet, we were told it wasn’t because they were still putting out merchandise. However, the store manager offered to let us in, since we were from out of town. We chatted with him quite a bit while we looked around. We asked if there had been much damage to the park during the hurricane. He told us they had been lucky, that there was no real damage to the stadium, but it was used as a staging area for the National Guard. When the owner drove over to the park after the storm, members of the National Guard were wearing clothing they had raided from the team store—without permission. Not what we expect from those who are supposed to be guarding us.

After the conference was over, we made our way along the Mississippi River, northwest to Arkansas, where summer firmly established itself. The game in Little Rock began at 10 in the morning and it was sunny. We were slathering on the sunscreen and trying not to bake too much, even though it was only about 65 degrees.

After Arkansas we made our way back across Mississippi and Alabama to Tennessee where we saw the Chattanooga Lookouts play the Tennessee Smokies. The weather had been lovely as we traveled across the south, although we ran into rain in some areas. Then we headed back north. The temperatures slowly dropped as we went through Kentucky, Ohio and eventually Michigan. It was certainly cooler when we arrived back at the cottage, but winter had gone and the area was full into spring. We had been gone for three weeks, but it had been enough for Ol’ Man Winter to blow himself out, leaving behind green shoots, crocuses, and lilacs. Perfect.