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.

Hats for James

As you could tell by the last two editions of our Minor Road Trip blog, we like to talk not only about minor league baseball, travel and historical sites, we also like to talk about food, baseball park food and what is sometimes referred to as “road food.” Road food is served in those little family-owned restaurants, diners and drive-ins that we run across on our baseball travels—those small town coffee shops and places a person would never haunt unless they were a local or someone traveling the back roads of America going from one minor league baseball park to another. We have one here in our hometown that is on the top of our got-to-eat-there list.

We have a good number of friends who enjoy baseball, but only a few who enjoy it as much as we do. As has been mentioned before, we really don’t have a favorite team. Yes, we both grew up in the Cincinnati area so we always keep an eye on the Reds, but for the most part we have given up on major league baseball—too much money and too many prima donnas. We love the intimacy of the minor leagues. Most of our friends enjoy minor league ball because it is near by and accessible, but they all have a love for one particular major league team. Dan has a friend who has even gone to the point of having the Boston Red Sox logo tattooed on his arm. We both have a close friend who loves baseball as much as we do, but he’s one of those who loves his major league team and enjoys minor league baseball because it is available. His name is James Brown. The issue that we have with him is that his major league team is the New York Yankees. James lives and breaths the Yankees. We, on the other hand, always have to explain to James that the Yankees are the epitome of what we dislike about major league baseball. And we always add that our favorite MLB team is the one that has most recently beaten the Yankees.

James owns and operates a diner in our hometown of Rochester, New York, called simply enough “James Brown’s Place.” It is an absolutely delightful little store front American diner that he has been running since 1998. Dan started going there for lunch sometime in early 2000 when he was the interim rector of the Episcopal Church about two blocks away – he would go there with the lay leadership of the church for meetings. He took Ginny there for lunch shortly afterwards and we have been going back ever since. To put it mildly, it is our favorite restaurant in all of Rochester. The diner is a breakfast and lunch place with a Friday night fish fry. As a matter of fact, we were there this past Friday for the fish fry – well, Ginny had the fish fry. Dan had James’ BBQ ribs. (He does an outstanding job of smoking his own meats.) It’s certainly not a fancy place by any means. Instead, it’s one of those places when you walk in for the first time, you may think to yourself, “what have I gotten myself into.” However, the staff is extremely friendly and the food is wonderful. We are not the only ones in town who think this. James does a good business, but on Saturdays and Sundays the place is generally packed. There may be a wait at the door, but it’s worth it.

James himself is just one of those guys you have to like. He’s a big bear of a man with an absolute heart of gold (as cliché as that sounds) with an ability to keep people coming back. He makes them feel at home (in a restaurant) with his winks or hugs, his self-deprecating sense of humor (the motto of the restaurant is “James Brown’s Place: A legend in his own mind”) and his welcomes to all new and not so new patrons. One wall of the diner is filled with pictures of James and friends, but the most important section is his shrine to the Yankees (a picture of each of the Yankees’ World Series winning teams plus other Yankee fan memorabilia). It should be noted that Dan prefers not facing the “shrine” when he eats. He would prefer to look at a picture of the backside of a naked man grocery shopping (they say it is a picture of James) than have to gaze at the Yankee shrine. (James and Dan have a continual discussion about whether or not the Yankees, according to James, are “God’s Team.” Dan always quips that if they were God’s Team they wouldn’t have to have a $ 230 million payroll and not be doing so poorly—they would play just for the love of the game and be winning.)

One characteristic about James is that he always wears a baseball cap with the logo of some baseball team. He doesn’t get to wear them for long because he cooks in them, so he goes through them fairly quickly. One of our great joys, especially for Dan, is picking up at least one ball cap a trip from one of the teams we visit in a year for James. He loves getting the hats and Dan likes giving them to him. It’s something Dan’s grandmother taught him: if there is something simple you can do to bring joy into someone’s life, do it. So Dan’s goal in life is to find hats for James every trip.

James Brown with his Mets Affiliate hat.

Although James is always grateful for his hats, he does have a couple of rules—no Boston Red Sox or New York Mets affiliates. Occasionally, we do plot evil things and our we-are-not-Yankee-fans side comes out. Then our goal (especially Dan) is to get James into a Red Sox or Mets affiliate cap, and we did it with this last trip to Savannah. We picked up a Sandgnats fitted (7 & 5/8ths) home team hat for James, got him to put it on, took a picture and then informed him that they were a Mets affiliate. He liked the hat so much, he changed his rules a little: as long as it wasn’t Boston, well, even Boston is okay this week.

So if you are hitting the Rochester RedWings (AAA—Minnesota Twins) in between seeing the Auburn Doubledays (Short Season A—Washington Nationals) and the Batavia Muckdogs (Short Season A—Miami Marlins), stop in and see James Brown’s Place ( It is the ideal baseball road food place—and you got to meet James. A legend in his own mind!


Meeting Mr. Tuttle

Our baseball trip in 2003 consisted of a tour around our home area, Cincinnati. That is, we traveled to northern Ohio, through Indiana, western Tennessee, northern Georgia and Alabama, north to Kentucky and back to Cincinnati. Well, not exactly, Cincinnati, but close. Florence, Kentucky—across the river from Cincinnati—had started an independent baseball team, the Florence Freedoms, but the stadium was not yet built. So, in an effort to still host home games, the team played in a community park in Hamilton, Ohio, some 50 miles north of Florence—and about 15 miles from Ginny’s parents.

Taking advantage of free room and board, we stayed with the Skinners for a couple of nights and in return took them to see the Florence Freedoms play the Evansville (IN) Otters. That night was the first time we saw Jason Tuttle. We saw him play, but we didn’t remember him. Not right away.

The game was uneventful—Florence won 8 to 5. The seats were hard, being run-of-the-mill aluminum bleachers found in all community parks. The food was uncreative, dogs and peanuts. But this is not the purpose of the story. Five weeks later we saw Jason Tuttle again. This time, we were at Batavia, NY, one of our favorite parks (just 30 miles from our home). Batavia was playing the Vermont Expos (now the Vermont Lake Monsters) Before the game, Ginny was perusing the players’ stats that included the previous team they had played for and she noticed that one person had just moved from the Florence Freedoms to the Expos—Jason Tuttle. She leafed back in her scorebook to that previous game and found that we had indeed seen him play in Hamilton. She excitedly punched Dan and pointed out her find. At that moment, the player in question came out of the dugout and stood looking out at the grounds crew on the field, as if he’d been summoned by mental manipulation. Dan said, “There he is. Go talk to him.” Ginny said, “No. You go. You’re on the end.”  Dan replied with a poke in her ribs and said, “You’re prettier.” Ginny glared at him, then mumbled something about “pathetic men” and made her way over to the edge of the dugout. (Batavia’s field is very small and intimate, so it’s easy to speak to the players without shouting at a distance.)

When she reached the player, Ginny said, “Mr. Tuttle.” She’s always polite that way—even though she probably could’ve been his grandmother. Well, to be fair, at least his mother. The young man turned, something like suspicion on his face. She said, “This sure beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio, doesn’t it?” It took a few seconds for the sentence to register. She hurried on: “We saw you play for the Freedoms a few weeks ago. You hit a single that night.” Then he smiled. He probably didn’t have any groupies. So she forged ahead: “We live in Rochester, but we were down visiting family in Ohio when we saw you.” He replied, “Yeah, I was just traded. And this is better than Hamilton!” She wished him good luck and returned to her seat. Every time Jason came to the plate, we would cheer for him. He’s not big or muscular. In fact, he’s rather short. And he didn’t hit the long ball. But he is one of the fastest runners we’ve ever seen. He could hit a little blooper past the pitcher and leg it out to be on first before the second baseman knew what to do with the ball. And he hustled! He played outfield and if anything even came remotely close to him, he was scrambling for all he was worth to retrieve that ball and get it to the appropriate player.

Two nights later, we were back in Batavia—we said it’s one of our favorites—and the Expos were still there. After we’d been in our seats for a while, Mr. Tuttle ran over to us. We’re not hard to find, always sitting behind homeplate. Through the netting, it was easy to see his excitement. He asked, “Were you here last night?” No, we couldn’t make it. “I hit a triple!” he blurted. Dan replied, “Are you kidding?” “It was great!” He was practically dancing with excitement. Ginny said, “I’m sorry we missed it.” Jason’s smile could hardly be contained to his face. Being away from home, it seemed for that moment we were surrogates for his family. And we were happy to oblige. We chatted for a while, then he returned to the dugout and we cheered him on through the game. He didn’t hit a triple that night.

After that, Dan kept track of Mr. Tuttle via the Web. He was traded, released, and picked up by an independent team, the Grays, in 2005. When Dan found out that Jason would be playing in Elmira, NY, we drove the two hours to see the game. After we found our seats, Ginny walked over to the Grays’ dugout (without being coerced this time) and requested to speak to Jason. When he came out of the dugout, puzzlement on his face, she said, “Mr. Tuttle, I don’t think this place beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.” He smiled widely. She added, “You remember us?” His smile widened further: “Oh yeah, at Batavia.” “Well, Dan’s been following your career since then and when he saw you were playing here, we had to drive down.” Surprise colored his face: “For me? How long was that?” “Two hours, but we like baseball.” He seemed flattered—maybe he still didn’t have any groupies. “Wow, thanks.” Ginny knew not to draw things out, so she wished him luck. He smiled again and said, “Thanks for coming.” Of course, we cheered for his every at-bat. But he didn’t hit a triple then either.

That was the last time we saw Mr. Tuttle, which was too bad. Jason seemed to embody the genuine spirit of Minor League Baseball. He hustled, he dove for the ball, he strove every minute to play his best and to support his team. After seven seasons in the minors, never quite making it to the “Show,” he had accumulated a 296 batting average, a 362 on-base percentage and a fielding average of 984. The last team he played for was Sioux City, Iowa, in 2008. Last year, Dan actually tracked down Jason’s wife on Facebook, where he had a very friendly exchange with her about the husband for whom we once were groupies—if only for a short time. The Tuttles have a child now and Jason is doing some coaching at a sports center.  We’re sure that he’s encouraging his young protégés to hustle out there on the field, no matter their size or age.

When we’re in his neck of the woods, we plan to look him up and ask him if it beats the heck out of Hamilton, Ohio.

That Guy in Harrisburg

This was one of those times when things seem to go wrong, but in the end we have a really good time. This particular event took place when we were visiting old friends in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Jeb and Pat. It was on the tail end of our “Civil War and Dollywood trip in which we got rained on a whole bunch besides being rained out of one good game.” As you can tell it was the “wet” weather that was prominent on the trip, but it was not the only thing.  Early on we had spent some time at Gettysburg (where Dan found someone’s 32 year Alcoholics Anonymous chip at the “grove of trees”—the main focal point of Pickett’s Charge—then spent some 15 minutes trying to explain to the Park Ranger at the lost and found post why it would be important to the person who lost it. This is a whole other story in itself. To put it succinctly it appears that knowledge about how 12-step groups and what these sobriety tokens are is not within the purview of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s requirements for what Park Rangers are suppose to know).  In addition, we visited Dollywood where we met up with one of Ginny’s sisters and her husband (soon to be ex-husband, again a whole other story).  Besides these two events, this trip was mostly known for the weather—it seemed to rain every place we went. However, the one place it didn’t rain was at the end of the trip, but other things went wrong in Harrisburg. The visit with Jeb and Pat was great; we caught up with each of them and told stories about all the mutual friends that Jeb and Pat hadn’t seen in a few years.

The thing that went wrong really wasn’t that big of a deal in the eyes of most normal people, but it was anxiety-producing for us.  The game was between the Harrisburg Senators (at the time the AA affiliate of the Montreal Expos) and the Reading Phillies of the Eastern League. One of the main rules of doing a minor road trip is that when you are on a baseball trip and visiting friends you always take them to the game with you. For us, the problem is that we never make it to the field on time, at least not the time that we baseball fanatics would like. It’s not our fault, really. To be polite, we just don’t want to be our normal obsessive selves with friends, so we tend not to get to the park early enough to walk around it to look for old foul balls, to check out all of the food vendors to find that unique delicacy that is served only at that park, to visit the souvenir shop to see what is cool, or to get those much-needed pictures of the park for future reference. In the simplest of terms, if we’re with friends, we don’t have the time to do all of the other normal things that we do when we visit a new park. Part of the reason is that we don’t want our friends to think we’re crazy because we want to get to the park an hour and a half before the game starts (well, any crazier than they think we are).

Yet, in this particular case, it didn’t help that Dan didn’t check to see that the Harrisburg Senators had the bad habit of starting games on the half-hour instead of the normal hour, plus five minutes. And here it was a half-hour in the wrong direction! Taking Pat and Jeb was fine; they understood that we liked to get there early and we were fine in getting there only a half an hour prior to game time.  Since you all know basic math, you can tell what the problem was—as we were passing the turnstile into the park, the national anthem was being belted out. This threw Dan into a state of distraction because we still don’t have our food and Ginny suffered an anxiety attack because she needed to not only get a copy of the rooster, she still had to fill out her score book and take pictures of the park. AND we are missing baseball! In the long run, it worked out, a little rushed, but we got to our seats with food in hand missing only an out or two.

However, this is where the story starts to get interesting and memorable. As we got to our seats on the first base side, Dan took the fourth seat where he would be sitting next to someone he doesn’t know. Generally, he likes to sit on the end to stretch his legs, but he doesn’t mind sitting next to new people—great conversations start this way. Just as he was about to sit down, the gentleman next to him looked him straight in the eye and with no smile said to Dan, “I’m glad you’re here. They just made an announcement that whoever was sitting in that seat has to buy each person in the whole row a beer!  I hope you heard it when they called out section 112, row 3, seat 4 and best as I can tell that is your seat.”  Dan looked him in the eye and immediately shot back, “Well, that is very interesting, because I didn’t hear the announcement, but when I gave my ticket to the usher, he told me to watch out because I would be seated next to someone who was going to try to get me to by him a beer and that I should not be taken in by him.” With that and a smile Dan sat down and started to watch the game.

Now we don’t mind having conversations with others during a game; baseball is one of those sports where you can watch the game and talk at the same time. The only everyday etiquette that is violated when having a conversation is that there is very little eye contact with those you are conversing with. You may glance at each other, but generally you keep your eyes on the field and when a ball is hit or someone is stealing a base, the conversation comes to a halt. The conversation can resume once the normal routine of the game resumes.  During this particular game, Dan mainly spoke to our friend Jeb about what was going on in his life—motorcycles, teaching earth sciences, extended family, etc. Likewise, Dan expounded on things that have been going on in our lives, many mentioned in our Christmas letters—our yearly form of communication.  All the while, Dan was keeping an eye on the guy next to him, thinking that anyone who starts an encounter by trying to get Dan to buy him a beer can’t be all bad. One of the things Dan noticed about him was that he seemed to mainly talk to the row of people behind us. In fact, he knew them well enough to state to them that he was going to get some food and offered to pick something up for them. He even took orders. Finally, he did the “excuse me” shuffle to get past us and disappeared down the steps. Upon his return, he shuffled back past us, turned to hand stuff off to the people behind us, sat down and began drinking from a cup with a liquid obviously not a beer.

With that, Dan took the opportunity to say, “Boy, you seem to be having conversations with just about everyone here and you buy them stuff but nothing for me.” The guy smiled and replied, “Oh, that’s just my wife, daughter and her husband.” Dan asked, “So you couldn’t get tickets together?” He said, “Well, we’re here with our church group, so we have seats all around here. Dan responded, “So, if you’re here with a church group, then why is the first thing you do when I get here is to try to get me to buy you a beer? You drink alcohol?”  As this part of the conversation is going on, our friend Jeb begins to chuckle; he knows exactly what Dan is doing. He is about to have some real fun with this guy.

Somewhat sheepishly, the guy replies, “Oh, it’s okay. Our minister is even here and he drinks beer – we’re just not suppose to get drunk or anything like that, but it is okay to have some.”  Dan replied, “Well, I’ll be darned, your minister drinks beer and thinks it’s okay?”  The guy nodded yes, and Dan went on: “Your minister must be really cool, if he lets you drink beer! Wow, that is so cool, you are really lucky.” Now Dan will admit that he did over-emphasize his inflections as he was speaking, since he was being fed by Jeb’s silent convulsions of chuckling. Dan leaned over to the guy and reiterated, “Your minister must be really great!” Immediately, Dan knew he had him hooked into his little game because he smiled at Dan and said,  “Yep, he is great, he drinks beer and he even swears!” Dan came back with, “No shit, he even swears! That’s even better. He really is the best minister that I have ever heard about. Wow, that is amazing.”

With that Dan turned to Jeb, smiled and winked, then turned back to the guy: “My word, he drinks and swears, that is great, it is amazing, I’ll be damned, that is great!  He must be one hellava pastor.”  “Yep,” he replied, “he’s a great pastor.”

Again, their focus went back to the game, and at the end of the inning, Dan turned back to the guy and asked the question that set him up for the punch line: “So, tell me, what do you do for a living?” He proceeded to tell Dan that he worked for a company that repairs boxcars for railroads. After a considerable conversation about the details of what his job entailed, he asked Dan the exact same question: “So what do you do?” With that Jeb almost guffawed aloud, because he knew what was coming. Dan kept his eyes on the game, but leaned in the guy’s direction and stated, “I’m a minister.”  Just as the words came out of his mouth, Dan turned to see the expression on the guy’s face. His jaw dropped, his mouth opened wide in disbelief, then slowly his surprise was replaced with a wide grin and he knew Dan had reeled him in. The guy turned to his family behind us and pronounced, “This guy is a minister and drinks and swears, too, isn’t that neat?”  They nodded, said unenthusiastic “yeahs,” and turned back to the game, leaving Dan and the guy with the impression that “Dad” is off his rocker again talking to strangers. The guy turned back around, leaned towards Dan and, in a semi-conspiratorial tone, said, “You know, if our minister ever leaves, I think I can guarantee you a job. It’s a small church, just north east of here, but if you want it, I will make sure they give it to you.”

The moral of the story is that people go to baseball to have a good time and most of the time you meet some very nice people and, on occasion, if they start pulling your leg, it is fair game to pull theirs right back.  Heck, you never know:  you might get a job offer out of it. To this day, Dan tells people that he has a standing job offer to be a pastor for a congregation in a town about 30 miles northeast of Harrisburg.