On the Road: Red Sox and Blue Ridge in Salem

To see all posts from my June 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (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.

I had a bit of a hard time finding Lewis Gale Field, the home of the Salem Red Sox (Class A Advanced affiliate of, believe it or not, the Boston Red Sox). Actually, no, let me contradict that first sentence, which is always the best way to start a blog post: The stadium itself was easy enough to find. But what I couldn’t find was an entrance, as the main parking lot had recently been pressed into service as the host site of the upcoming Salem Fair.

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Salem’s Lot

I deposited my rental car vehicle in the parking lot seen below, which soon became yet another parking lot in which I could be briefly be seen without a shirt on. (I’m still waiting for someone to snap a photo of me changing shirts in a stadium parking lot. You could sell it to TMZ or something.)

001From this location, it was a pleasant, gently sloping walk to the stadium.

002And, finally, here we are. Like Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium, where I had been the night before, this, too, is a ballpark with a real mouthful of a name: Lewis-Gale Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium. This facility opened in 1995, and has hosted Salem’s Carolina League franchise for the duration of that time. (The team was known as the “Avalanche” from 1995-2008, switching to the current Boston affiliation and Red Sox name the following season.)

004The “Lewis-Gale” portion of the stadium designation is the result of a naming rights deal with Salem’s Lewis-Gale Medical Center. And, you know what? I’m confused.

I’m often confused.

There is no hyphen in the “Lewis Gale” signage seen above, but on the Salem Red Sox website the facility is referred to as “LewisGale Field”. (Somebody ask Rob Neyer — can a ballpark gain admittance within the ranks of the embarrassing?) So take your pick: Lewis Gale Field, Lewis-Gale Field (as it is listed on Wikipedia, among other places) or LewisGale Field. There are no wrong choices, it’s simply about what you feel most comfortable with.

I don’t want my discursive and invariably self-indulgent dissection of moniker minutiae to distract from the main point here, which is, or should be, this: It was a gorgeous day, and this is an absolutely gorgeous ballpark. My expectations, whatever they were coming in, were immediately exceeded.

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A quick shift of position in a rightward direction results in an even better view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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I had a feeling that my first Salem Red Sox game was gonna be a good one, despite my dismay that longtime broadcaster Evan Lepler is no longer with the team. (To my disc-may, Lepler has since moved on to become an ultimate announcer. Ultimate as in frisbee. On the Salem Red Sox broadcaster timeline, he currently holds the status of penultimate announcer.)

Fortunately, the Salem Red Sox radio booth remains in good hands. On the left is lead broadcaster Kevin Burke, who returned to Salem after working there during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. On the right is number two broadcaster Brian Gardner. Photos of them in their radio booth location are invariably backlit.

011Kevin and Brian are joined in the booth by Scout the Koala and Joey the Kangaroo, gifts from the mother of Australia-born Salem starting pitcher Daniel McGrath. It serves as a reminder of sorts, to both McGrath and the broadcasters, that a contingent of Australian fans are actively following along.

009Sorry to keep riffing on the same point, but the view! From up in the press box, it is even better than it was down under.

012Outside of the press box, here’s what it looks like in the other direction. The Salem Fair Ferris Wheel is dwarfed by the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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It was then time for one of my favorite parts of the day: Aimless, unfocused, lower-level wandering.

014Lewis-Gale Field — yeah, I’m going with the hyphen — has a capacity of 6,300. It’s spacious and comfortable, but I think its size works against it to an extent simply because Salem is a comparatively small market and it’s hard to foster an intimate crowd atmosphere with such out-sized surroundings.

015This bar is located on the concourse, directly behind home plate. It leads out onto an open area with tables scattered about, resulting in a convenient gathering space (albeit one that is lacking in shade).

018Here’s the kid’s play area with, once again, the Salem Fair Ferris Wheel looming in the background.

019The team store is located in a separate structure on the ballpark perimeter.

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Mini-Fenway, a to-scale replica of the parent club’s iconic abode, is located in this general area as well. (Beyond it is the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame which, unfortunately, was closed.)

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Down the left field line, life’s a picnic.

022I prefer seats to picnic benches, however, especially when the seats are emblazoned with a classic municipality logo.

026The Red Sox were now ready to face off against the Lynchburg Hillcats, whom I had seen (however briefly) during a rain-truncated contest in Lynchburg the night before. The weather forecast in Salem on this Sunday afternoon was significantly better, however.

It was, quite simply, a beautiful day for baseball. Oh, say can you see that I am serious?

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We’ll see a lot more of Salem’s Lewis Gale/Lewis-Gale/LewisGale Field in part two of this saga. Stay tuned, should your attention span and general life circumstances allow.

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

twitter.com/bensbiz

instagram.com/thebensbiz

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