July 16 - At The Ballpark: City Stadium, Lynchburg, VA
Part of the beauty of minor league baseball rests in the small towns in which it is played. While you
watch games on television from Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, minor league baseball takes
place in Kinston, Winston-Salem and Frederick. One of the better-kept secrets of minor league lore
rests in the foothills of central Virginia, at the intersection of US highways 29 and 460.
The Lynchburg Mets went on a run between 1983 and 1986 that was unrivaled by any professional
baseball team – major or minor league – of that era. The championship won by the parent Mets in
1986 clearly found its genesis in men that first walked the grass in City Stadium. These four years
were but a small sample of a baseball history in Lynchburg that dates back over a century, with
almost 70 of those years featuring baseball at City Stadium. Also, in the interest of disclosure,
Lynchburg is my “home” ballpark, having grown up in this fair city and having the chance to play and
attend camps on this field, despite my last trip to this park being in 1995. Can you really go home
again? Let's find out.
One of the promotions on this night (more on this in a bit) was the “feed your face” promotion, which
affords the ticket buyer all-you-can-eat pizza, popcorn, peanuts, hot dogs and hamburgers (only two
items allowed per visit to the concession stand) until the end of the sixth inning. The concessions
aside from those included in the promotion were of ample portion and reasonable price. The
standard ballpark fare is available, but there are also separate stands for Dippin Dots, funnel cakes
(which, by the way, I'm not a fan of funnel cakes, but this was easily the absolute best funnel cake I
have ever tasted) and other items. The hamburgers were average, but everything else should meet
both your palate and your wallet with satisfaction. Another item – and this is key – was that despite
the expected lines at the concession stands on this night, they kept everything moving, and everyone
was super nice. This is a theme I will revisit later.
Between-innings entertainment: C
One of the things I have always loved about baseball in Lynchburg is that the on-field staff always
knows their place. A lot of facilities go for the cartoonish approach between innings, and Lynchburg
has always gone the other way. Most of what went on was fairly standard stuff (dizzy bat race, t-shirt
toss, frisbee toss, throw the ball through the hole in the board, the Hamburger Helper bean bag toss
thing, etc.), but it was unobtrusive. I also give credit to Aaron Canada, who is part of the Hillcats'
broadcasting staff on the road and the on-field emcee in Lynchburg, for not being over the top in his
presentation. The musical selection before the game was quite good, and I wish more of it had been
played between innings.
Sight lines: B
This has always been somewhat of a bugaboo at City Stadium, and it is due partly to the quirks of the
way the field is laid out. For instance, if you are in certain sections of the bleachers on the third base
side, it is borderline impossible to track a ball hit into the left field corner. The clubhouses for both
teams are down the third base line in foul territory, so this also limits visibility, while preventing the
extension of the concourse much further than the third base coaching box. The first base side is a bit
better in terms of lines, as there is a picnic section and a berm seating area with a walkway that
extends nearly to the right field fence.
A lot of the other visibility issues are not known to the everyday fan, as there are things such as nets in
front of the luxury boxes that cut down on clarity (these are required, as they are literally right on top of
the action, and foul balls are hit that way at light speed), the near inability to see the right fielder from
the third base dugout because of the layout of the field, and the angles from inside the press box
creating some issues with tracking balls in play. The really disappointing part, however, is that the
main entrance to the park is right behind the press box area, which does not allow for the “money
shot” where you can see the entire expanse of the ballpark and the surrounding area. The hills and
mountain areas near Lynchburg are visible behind the outfield wall, and the ability to see more of this
would be optimal, but again, construction limitations prevent this from being possible.
As mentioned earlier in the piece, the main promotion was “feed your face” night. The idea for this
promotion came from the ballpark in Daytona Beach (ironically, I visited their park on a night where
they ran the same promotion), and it turns out to be a better value than a souvenir one may just end
up placing in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere to collect dust. The lines at the concession stands
indicated to me how well this went over with the fans.
Unless you happen to show up at the ballpark on one of the truly high-traffic days (opening night, July
4, etc.), parking at City Stadium is pretty painless. All parking is free (which is a real plus), and there
are at least five points of egress from the park. There are a number of big-city parks that could take
notes from City Stadium's methods of entry and exit. I strongly suggest using the gravel lot in the
lower portion of the parking area for two reasons: 1) there is less chance of your car becoming
accessorized by a foul ball, and 2) exiting the ballpark is considerably easier.
Quality of baseball: C
When writing this, I have to temper my expectations, and to realize this is advanced single-A
baseball. That said, both starting pitchers gave up seven earned runs and neither lasted five
innings. The teams combined for 20 runs, 29 hits and three errors. I came away impressed with a
few players, including Salem outfielder Mitch Einertson and Lynchburg second baseman Shelby Ford
and DH/outfielder Brad Corley. Corley appeared to be the best hitter on the field, and was in the
midst of a double-digit game hitting streak during this game. In fact, I wondered why Corley was
batting in the fifth spot in the lineup, but not having seen this team all year, I assured myself that there
was a good rationale behind that decision.
Overall grade: A
If you like your baseball experience to be more baseball and less state fair, Lynchburg is your place.
It is a market very much akin to a lot of other small markets in the south, with a loyal fan base, a cozy
atmosphere and really great people associated with the team. The Hillcats players were really
friendly with the fans, and this did not go unnoticed. The stadium has changed so much since I
played there and frequented the facility, and the last vestiges of the park I knew remain in the
bleachers down each base line. On one hand, I've always hated those bleachers, but they are a fine
example of the old mixing with the new.
If your travels lead you to Lynchburg, be prepared for a nice night of baseball and some truly
wonderful people. Hillcats Director of Broadcasting Jon Schaeffer is a real up-and-comer in his
business, and he and his partner Scott Bacon do a tremendous job on the radio call for Hillcats
games. Both men are very intelligent and well-spoken, and Jon has been super nice to me for years,
starting with a feature I wrote on minor league baseball in 2005. Take a radio with you to the game,
and tune in to 105.5 FM to catch their call.
How to get there:
The stadium is located at the intersection of Fort Avenue and Wythe Road in Lynchburg, and is
accessible from either the James Street or City Stadium exits on the Lynchburg Expressway (US 29).
There is ample signage from the highway to guide you to the park. Further, you can reach the park via
a number of surface streets in the Lynchburg area.
You may also want to see:
--Virginia's historic areas. Virginia is a state steeped in history, and there are many must-see areas,
such as Appomattox (the site of the end of the Civil War, approximately 25 miles east), the colonial
cities of Yorktown, Jamestown and Williamsburg to the east, and Manassas and Fairfax to the north.
Lynchburg is also 45 minutes or so east of the Blue Ridge mountain chain, along with the famed
Blue Ridge Parkway.
--The University of Virginia. The grounds known as Thomas Jefferson's University are located in
Charlottesville, approximately one hour north of Lynchburg on US 29, and feature the combination of
historic architecture and a vibrant, modern college atmosphere. Be sure to stop by the College Inn for
dining, and visit the famous Corner district. There are also a few areas to note along the drive, such
as the historical references to Hurricane Camille and the damage she caused in 1969 as you enter
Nelson County, and the inspiration for the 70s television show The Waltons in Schuyler.
Charlottesville also contains the historic sites Monticello, Oak Lawn and Michie Tavern.