Excellent Adventure Day # 64
If this picture, as dark and grainy as it is, doesn’t speak to you then it is likely that you are either a member of my family that reads my blog to be nice or you have stumbled across this page by mistake.
This is what minor league baseball looks like in my mind’s eye. Sure, there are big fancy new ballparks in lovely downtown settings in many growing cities across the United States today, but I will always think of small towns with bucolic views from the bleachers like this one when I think of the minors.
We camped in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the nights we were in Lynchburg and Salem. If you don’t know the area, Salem is a small town just outside Roanoke, VA and the park was a long foul ball from the Blue Ridge parkway.
I don’t recall exactly what we did those two days but I know what we didn’t do, which was to fire up the video camera. We probably followed our usual routine when we didn’t have long drives, a bit of sightseeing or hiking in this case, an early dinner at the campsite then over to the ballpark for the evening. At these stops we would typically arrive just about the time normal fans did, about an hour before game time. It was when we had longer drives and were just pulling into a new town that we’d have video of the empty park in the afternoon.
As pretty as the surrounding area was, Salem Municipal Field could hardly have been called beautiful. The park was built into the side of a hill and a good bit of the seating was made up of concrete slabs on which fans in the know would set up their own lawn chairs. There were a few concession stands at the top of the bleachers but even in 1991 the park had more in common with the fields of the South Atlantic and nearby Appalachian leagues than it did to the other stadiums in its own league. It is likely that ballpark travelers of today wouldn’t even recognize it as the same species as new stadiums like Segra Stadium in Fayetteville or the new park that replaced it, Salem Memorial Stadium, just down the road.
That said, I am grateful for an opportunity to see a professional game in this old park and I think you will see why in the video. The Salem Buccaneers lost that night, 7-1 to the visiting Kinston Indians. Kinston got a pair of 7th inning home runs from Will Canate and Marc Tepper to pull away. However, Salem did get a home run from Kevin Young who went on to hit 144 more of them over a 12-year Major League career, most of them as a first baseman in Pittsburgh.
The video features a good look at the old ballpark and it’s hillside architecture. It also includes a rare connection to old Yankee Stadium and a crazy race around the diamond to collect CDs after the game.
Carolina League baseball is still played in this gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains but since 1995 it has been played at a new stadium and the team has had several new names since our trip in 1991.
The Salem Red Sox play at Haley Toyota Field at Salem Memorial Ballpark, a 6,000 seat facility about a mile east of the old stadium. I visited in 2003 and the new park couldn’t be more different than its predecessor, though it does still have a lovely view of the mountains.
Tomorrow on the Low Mileage Tour it’s back across Virginia to see a stadium that in 1991 dwarfed almost all of its minor league brethen, the Diamond, in Richmond, VA.