December 7 - Factors such as playing surface, field view, fan experience, unique amenities and historical perspective were used to determine the magazine’s list of the top baseball venues in Northern Virginia.
Our ranking of the top five fields came with the assistance of current and former area coaches, players and members of the baseball community - and included any 90-foot diamond in the magazine’s coverage area in the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford and the City of Alexandria.
The general feeling among those polled is that a Bermuda grass surface is the best aesthetically and from a traditionalists’ perspective, while an artificial turf surface is the best from a maintenance perspective and in the cases of inclement weather. Other factors considered were spectators’ views, a fan’s experience - such as accessibility, parking and concessions - as well as any unique amenities and even a historical viewpoint were consideration.
Here’s our list of the top five baseball venues in Northern Virginia, followed by notes on other fields that were considered.
1. Fireman’s Field (Purcellville) - One of the destination spots for Purcellville residences, with several non-baseball events held at and around the park every year. The ballpark was built by the local volunteer firefighters department in 1947, becoming the first Loudoun County field with lights. It’s hosted the six World Series for national youth baseball groups, the American Legion Mid-Atlantic Regional, and serves as the home field for Leesburg Post 34 and the Purcellville Cannons of the Valley Baseball League, an MLB-sanctioned summer collegiate league. The park has a capacity of 3,000, a natural grass surface, sits in a scenic area surrounded by trees and is just minutes from several restaurants for players and fans to grab a bite before and after games. It might exist in a remote area for many in Northern Virginia, but Fireman’s Field remains a must-see destination for any area baseball observer.
2. Madison High School (Vienna) - The best Friday night environment each spring for area high school baseball, the field can be found by newcomers to the ballpark by following the water tower with “Home of the Warhawks” painted across it. Once at the school, parking is easy and spectators are encouraged to arrive early as Madison baseball remains a town staple and big games are often a standing-room only event. The best examples of this: the 2003 state quarterfinal where Great Bridge came in and knocked off the defending Group AAA state champions behind a home run from future No. 1 overall MLB pick Justin Upton; and the 2007 regional semifinal against Oakton that had fans three and four deep all the way around the field - even with some standing on their toes beyond the outfield fence to catch a glimpse. The field has in-ground dugouts, a natural grass surface had its deep left-center field power alley shortened a few years ago to allow for new bullpens to be built - much to the delight of opposing teams, whose pitchers had to work around a light pole in the old visitors bullpen, Oh, and the Warhawks my never admit to it, but the old visitor’s ‘pen may have been a couple feet short of 60 feet, 6 inches, giving opposing pitchers a false sense of additional juice on their fastball. Nothing wrong with a little home field advantage, right?
3. Tucker Field at Barcroft Park (Arlington) - The transformation at the home of George Washington University baseball and Arlington Babe Ruth has been impressive. Once known as one of the worst Division I college fields in the country, private donations and a commitment from the local government has transitioned the ballpark into one of the best collegiate venues in the state. First came an artificial turf playing surface, a new press box, grandstand and in-ground dugouts, and most-recently indoor batting cages and a clubhouse for the Colonials’ players. Barcroft Park was home to the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament this past year, and hosts several high school games each spring, its turf field serving as a backup option for Arlington schools Yorktown, Washington-Lee and Wakefield. The field’s location is central to baseball fans throughout the Washington, D.C. area and nearby the bustling Arlington commerce community.
4. Robert M. Menefee Field at Robinson Secondary School (Fairfax) - Named for the late Bob Menefee, the Rams’ longtime coach who led them to their lone state championship in 1980, the field may boast the best combination of playing surface, fan experience and accessibility of any in Northern Virginia. The school’s coaches and athletic department have made a commitment to the upkeep and improvements at the natural grass field, and that has been rewarded over the years as Menefee Field has hosted many big regional and state tournament games. Three future Major League pitchers got their start at the field - Shawn Camp, Javier Lopez and Paul Clemens - and the Rams’ program has an additional advantage with a practice field beyond the outfield fence. The school sits in the middle of Fairfax County, and fans are able to watch from the bleachers, on a hill behind the third base dugout or by leaning on the fence down the first base line - the vantage point of preference for coaches scouting the teams or college coaches scouting players looking for a quick exit after the game. Before teams and fans can get to the game, however, they have to walk past the football stadium and a large board displaying the many championships won by one of the area’s premier sports schools. Solid intimidation tactic.
5. “The Bowl” at Riverside High School (Leesburg) - The newest field on our list, the Rams’ home field gained the nickname “The Bowl” and for obvious reasons as the playing field sits in a canyon of sorts. This creates a unique vantage point unlike any other in Northern Virginia, and many spectators choose to watch from the hill - much like fans do beyond the outfield fence in Williamsport, PA for the Little League World Series. The field boasts all the modern amenities that new schools receive - a big press box and dugouts, and plenty of space on the field in foul territory - and has a picnic area directly behind the backstop and a scenic view beyond the trees in center and right field. It didn’t take long for Riverside to hang banners on the new ballpark either, the Rams have claimed two district and one region title in their first three seasons.
Others Considered: The environment around Waters Field in Vienna and Quincy Park in Arlington lend an urban feel, with several businesses and restaurants nearby. … Fairfax High School was for years the go-to venue for big playoff games, and sits in a great location nearby several highways. … The multi-use facility at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax includes the area’s deepest center field dimensions (at an estimated 435 feet) and a clubhouse for coaches and players. … Frank Mann Field in Alexandria was once the home of the Single-A Alexandria Dukes, and players such as six-time MLB All-Star Bobby Bonilla played there while coming up through the Pirates’ system when it was known as Municipal Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s. … The area’s lone current pro ballpark is Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, which will be the home to the Potomac Nationals for one more season before they move to their new digs in Fredericksburg. … Stafford’s Legion Field is a favorite of many along the I-95 corridor. … Many new schools have plush press boxes that put to shame the outdated structures at older schools, and the area’s best could be the climate-controlled press box at Patriot High School in Nokesville. … Three of the best playing surfaces in the area exist at Westfield High School in Chantilly, Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke and Chantilly High School, and the grass surface at George Mason University’s Raymond H. Spuhler Field has won national awards in past years. … The dimensions at Justice High School (formerly JEB Stuart) in Falls Church are the most unique, and the field is the only turf field on a high school campus in Northern Virginia. The distance to the right field foul pole at the field is just 235 feet, with a 15-foot wall extending from the pole out towards center field, the result of space constraints with the residential community built around the campus. … A similar short “porch” exists in right field at Oakton High School - it’s 280 feet to the pole - but the school built a wall two years ago much to the delight of pitchers (and, smartly by the Cougars, after Joe Rizzo graduated). Can we call it The Wall That Rizzo Built? … A great environment also exits at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, with wraparound bleachers seemingly right on top of the plate thanks to the short distance between the backstop and home plate. Similar dynamics exist at Westfield and South County High School in Lorton. … Future gems for area baseball fans to look forward to will be Paul VI’s new turf field in South Riding and the Potomac Nationals’ new $35 million stadium in Fredericksburg, both of which will open in 2020.
Note: Today’s story is part of the magazine’s series ranking the area’s top programs, coaches and fields.
Photos, clockwise from top left: Tucker Field at Barcroft Park, Madison High School, Fireman’s Field, Robinson Secondary School, and Riverside High School.