On the Road: 25 Minutes of Baseball in Lynchburg

To see all posts from my June 27, 2015 visit to the Lynchburg Hillcats (this is Part One) click HERE. To see all of the posts from my June 2015 trip through the Virginias, click HERE. To see ALL of my “On the Road” posts (going back to 2010), click HERE.

The third stop of my late-June jaunt through the state of Virginia was Lynchburg, home of the Hillcats (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians). The Hillcats play at Lynchburg City Stadium — also commonly referred to as Calvin Falwell Field — a facility that opened in 1938 and was extensively renovated prior to the 2004 campaign.

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As you can see from the above photo, which was taken from the parking lot, Lynchburg City Stadium is located within a hilly area (the team is called the Hillcats for a reason). The front entrance to the ballpark looms high above faded industrial facilities and lush expanses of foliage.

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The “Calvin Falwell Field” part of the stadium name equation is in honor of, yes, Calvin Falwell, president of the Lynchburg Baseball Corporation from 1966 until his death at age 90 in 2011. The Falwell name looms large in these parts, as Calvin was a relation of late televangelist Jerry Falwell. Falwell founded Lynchburg’s Liberty University in 1971, which has 14,000 students on campus as well as another 100,000 online students. (At no point in Lynchburg’s long Minor League history has the team been known as the “Moral Majorities,” though perhaps this would have been fitting.)

My evening with the Hillcats began in the office of general manager Ronnie Roberts, a 25-year-front office veteran who, the night before, had been honored with his own Major League-referencing “Wild Thing” bobblehead.

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For better or for worse, Ronnie long ago abandoned the bespectacled mullet look.
003Ronnie has an interesting story, as he landed his first Minor League Baseball job at the age of 41. At the time he was recently divorced and working an uninspiring white collar job, and, thus, decided that a drastic life change was necessary. He sent letters to teams all across Minor League Baseball, and Lynchburg responded with an offer to work as the groundskeeper. He relocated for the opportunity and now, 25 years later, he’s general manager and recent bobblehead honoree. (There should be an MiLB.com story about all this at some point. Stay tuned.)

While it’s not up to Pedro Bragan-levels of spectacular clutter, Ronnie’s office is chock-full of baseball mementos. He’s got his first baseball glove enclosed in a Plexiglas case, the top of which bears the following inscription:

Ronnie’s First Glove. Purchased in 1957 By His Mama and Daddy with S & H Green Stamps. Value in 1957: 10  Books of Stamps. Value Now: Priceless

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In 1957, when Ronnie got his first glove, Lynchburg City Stadium more or less looked like this:

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By the time I finished talking with Ronnie, the game had begun. This, then, was my first view of the playing field. The Blue Ridge Mountains are visible; the James River, which runs from Lynchburg to Richmond, is not. But it’s out there.

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Upon emerging onto the concourse, my attention was almost immediately directed to the home dugout. The bat boy’s helmet had been adorned with a crown of cups:

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Ha-Ha!
012Such levity was not long for this world. As I wandered down the third base line to get a shot of the high school football stadium that resides next door, I couldn’t help but notice that the cloud cover was growing increasingly ominous. (The two facilities were built in tandem with one another, as part of the same WPA project.)

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018Though the rains hadn’t yet begun, the tarp was placed on the field. It was only the top of the second inning, the game still in an embryonic stage.

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The decision to put the tarp on the field was, for the record, correct. Soon the rains came, and they came hard.

Another day, another rain delay. Lynchburg Hillcats https://t.co/VWuGZR3K3N

Some fans had already headed for the exits.

020While others sought refuge where they could.

021I ended up finding refuge in a ramshackle storage room located down the third base side of the concourse, where I met my designated eater(s). That portion of the evening will be covered in the next post and, unfortunately, there’s not much else to cover as regards my evening in Lynchburg. While the torrential downpour had been short-lived, Calvin Falwell Field doesn’t drain fal that well and thus the decision was made to “bag it.”

This picture was taken from an upper-level suite, one of 14 that were added to the ballpark during the great renovation of 2004 (during which the width of the concourse was expanded from eight feet to 30). I believe that is is the only ballpark I’ve been to in which the safety netting extends upward to the roof of the stadium and thus obscures upper-level views as well. It’s a safety issue.

036 The suite, from within.

035As I was experiencing the suite life, the stadium had become a virtual ghost town.

039There isn’t much to be done in a situation such as this, but I tried to stretch out my evening at the ballpark for as long as possible. Here, then, are the three stalwarts of the Lynchburg front office: General manager Ronnie Roberts, groundskeeper Darren Johnson and president Paul Sunwall. They have a combined 84 years of continued Lynchburg baseball service between them.

042I then spoke with another Lynchburg baseball lifer, bat boy turned grill master Jimmy “Salad Bar” Wright. 044

So how did Jimmy get to be known as Salad Bar? That’s a question I answered in this MiLB.com article, which contains the following quote:

“I was a little shorter, a little plump, not overly plump,” said Jimmy. “And [Randy Myers] always joked [about how] when we’d go on the road I’d never eat salad or anything. Oh, gosh, I’d rather have a hamburger than a salad any day. And he said, ‘Man, if you ain’t gonna eat a salad, then I’m gonna call you Salad.”

Finally, my night came to an end. There wasn’t anything left to do except make yet another groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke.

And with that gem under my belt, I bid the ballpark adieu. Lynchburg City Stadium, I hardly know ye.

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benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

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