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.