Return to the Road 2015: Trip Three, Chapter Two
The previous installment of my “Return to the Road” series of blog posts covered my time in Richmond on June 25 and 26th. On the afternoon of June 26th, I left Richmond and drove straight to Norfolk’s Harbor Park for that evening’s game between the Tides and Toledo Mud Hens. That was a horrible drive. I got stuck in horrific traffic en route to a tunnel whose name I do not care to remember, and by the time I arrived at the ballpark I could barely think coherently.
The next day, my mind had returned to an acceptably functioning state. Before embarking on the 200-mile drive to Lynchburg, I set my coordinates for — you guessed it — a record store. This is The Groove Record Shop, located on the ground floor of a new(ish) apartment building on Granby Street.
I was greeted at The Groove by Paul Levine, the store’s amiable sexagenarian owner. He told me an abbreviated version of that which is explained in this local news article — namely, that the original Groove Record Shop opened in 1949 and was owned by parents, with the store eventually moving to Granby Street. When Levine opened up the “new” Groove in 2014, it marked a triumphant return to Granby Street after a 46-year hiatus.
Why can’t I ever take a good picture when I’m inside a record store?
The Groove’s overall selection was solid but relatively sparse: All vinyl, both new and used. I picked up a used copy of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and a slightly damaged early Bob Seger record (“Smokin’ O.P.’s”, which is unfortunately not a reference to on-base plus slugging percentage).
After leaving The Groove, I briefly admired Granby Street’s faded historical signage.
Shortly thereafter, I pulled in to the Virginia Diner. Because, you know, it’s a Legend in a Nutshell.
In Waverly, Virginia, I found Cowling’s BBQ.
This was North Carolina-style barbecue, with a vinegar-based sauce. I prefer a vinegar-based sauce, especially when it’s atop a pile of succulent pulled pork.
After that, things are kind of a blur for the next couple of days. I attended that evening’s (rained-out) Lynchburg Hillcats game, and was on the road the next morning for a pleasant Sunday drive to Salem. After seeing the Salem Red Sox that afternoon, I visited a Mexican restaurant for dinner. I forget the name of this Mexican restaurant, but after doing a little internet research I’m going to guess that it was El Toreo.
At any rate, this is the most absurd amount of food I’ve ever ended up with after placing a single order.
I live in NYC, which also has terrible traffic, but the difference is that you can live in NYC without a car. I don’t understand how people can live in suburban D.C. and not have the traffic drive them insane. Their tolerance for daily suffering is greater than mine.
On June 30th I finally left the confines of Virginia, crossing the state line into Maryland en route to West Virginia to see the Black Bears. Along the way, somewhere in Maryland, I stopped at a convenience store and bought the local Dutch delicacy that is the beet egg. (I was already aware of beet eggs as a result of buying one at a Hagerstown Suns game I attended in 2011.)
Beet eggs are naturally reddish-purple in color, as a result of being pickled in a beet-based brine, but for some reason the eggs I bought listed “red food coloring” as an ingredient. This just makes them redder, I guess.
After witnessing June 30’s West Virginia Black Bears game, I drove straight to Pittsburgh and arrived late that night. I went to college in Pittsburgh (Pitt, class of 2001) and still have friends there, so this was a good opportunity for a quick visit.
When in Pittsburgh, visiting Jerry’s Records is a must. An absolute must. As I’ve written before (and will write again), it is the world’s greatest record store.
This is the main room of the store, but there are several other rooms and thus plenty more records beyond what can be seen in this picture.
I contemplated buying this album and sending it to Wisconsin Timber Rattlers broadcaster (and noted ’70s TV aficionado) Chris Mehring. Instead, I just took a picture. I mean, why would one buy a Kojak album instead of watching him on the Telly?
And on and on it goes. Jerry’s is a goldmine, and I bought a bunch of stuff. I won’t bore you with the details. There have been too many of those already.
Thank you for, once again, for returning to the road with me. I’ve got two more trips left to write about in this manner, which should then lead to the announcement of my 2016 travel itinerary. Is it ever not the season?
To see all posts from my June 27, 2015 visit to the Lynchburg Hillcats (this is Part Two) 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.
This is Jimmy “Salad Bar” Wright, pointing to a much younger version of himself. Jimmy served as the bat boy for the 1983 Carolina League champion Lynchburg Mets, a formidable squad that included Doc Gooden, Lenny Dykstra (who stole 105 bases) and, never forget, Jeff Bettendorf.
Salad Bar — read all about how he got the name HERE — gave up his bat boy duties long ago. These days, he’s the concourse grill master at the Lynchburg Hillcats home of Calvin Falwell Field.
Here are the items he grills up on a nightly basis; salad is not part of Salad Bar’s repertoire:
Clearly, my designated eater for the evening — you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark specialties that my gluten-free diet prohibits — would have to sample some of Salad Bar’s salad-free specialties. He suggested the “Aloha Donut Chicken Sandwich” (topped with bacon and pineapple) and “The Smoke” (sausage topped with fried jalapenos and fried cherry peppers). And so it was.
It’s fitting that the Aloha Donut Chicken Sandwich has a prominent ma-hole-o.
The Smoke Sausage, meanwhile, would like to wish you a merry crisp-ness.
My designated eater for the evening was to be the wife-husband duo of Judi Muir and David Freier. There was just one problem, however. When it came time to meet with these individuals, the tarp was on the field and the rain was pouring down. So what to do? And where to go?
It was eventually suggested that we set up shop in a concourse storage room. The same room, in fact, where the previously highlighted picture of the 1983 club proudly hangs. And. hey, the more the merrier! Judi and David are part of a boisterous Lynchburg rooting section that has dubbed themselves the “Litterbox,” all of whom sought refuge with us in our storage room-turned-dining hall.
In the above photo, David and Judi are flanked left to right by Litterboxers Steve Horeczko, Matt Lohmeyer, Amanda Bowling, Lauren Liwen, Matt Liwen, Mike Our and Christine Rudy. Laura is pregnant (with a lil’ Litterboxer?) so it’s only proper that she got the seat of honor while the others stood or kneeled.
David and Judi, who moved to Lynchburg in 2003, both teach biology at Lynchburg College. They met in 1988 at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, got engaged in 1994 and, finally, got married (on a whim, in a hot air balloon) in 2005. (Just for the fun of saying it, I wish they had then decided to go by the hyphenated surname of Muir-Freier). The Liwens are former students of David and Judi, and now refer to them as “life advisors.”
Minor League Baseball has been a constant in the lives of of the Muir-Freiers, with Judi reporting that they attend about half of the Hillcats games and also travel frequently to other stadiums in the area. Otherwise, she said, “we stay home with our four cats.”
I wish I had been able to see “The Litterbox” in action during the game, as they were equipped with a variety of (literal) bells and whistles.
But, anyway, we were here to talk about food. Have at it, Muir-Freiers.
Designated Eater checks in during rain delay storage room party, Lynchburg Hillcats https://t.co/78fNdJ5Ehh
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 27, 2015
David then started in on the Aloha Donut Chicken Burger.
“The sweetness of the pineapple with the barbecue sauce blends together well,” said David. “The donut, there’s no sweetness, it’s like a well-made bun. It melts in your mouth. It’s not like a doughy cake donut.”
David then passed this creation down the line, with each Litterbox member taking a bite (clearly, they’re a tight-knit bunch). All gave it high marks.
“The Smoke,” charred to a deep-black, generated no small amount of skepticism. In an email, Judi later mentioned that it looked like “something you would see in a Bones episode.”
While Judi wasn’t too enamored with the smoke, she is enamored with her husband. David wanted to give it a try, and this is what resulted.
Shortly after this heart-warming display, a dispiriting message was heard over the PA: That evening’s ballgame, which had been suspended in the top of the second inning due to rain, would be postponed.
Lynchburg Hillcats “Litterbox” defies the game postponement. https://t.co/eQWE4T9imK
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
The Litterbox, enthusiastic as they may be, were not able to reverse the team’s decision. There would be no more baseball in Lynchburg that evening, nor would there be any more food. But my time with the Litterbox, believe it or not, was not over. The next day, I’d see them cheering on the Hillcats in Salem.
Until then, I remain, in virtual form:
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.
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.
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.
For better or for worse, Ronnie long ago abandoned the bespectacled mullet look.
Ronnie 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
In 1957, when Ronnie got his first glove, Lynchburg City Stadium more or less looked like this:
This season, when I’m on the road, I’ll be writing a short, on-the-spot blog post about each Minor League ballpark that I visit. Then, upon my return home, I’ll provide the multifaceted blog coverage that you have come to know and, perhaps, even love. Let’s get to it, lest it get to us!
June 25, 2015: Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium, home of the Lynchburg Hillcats (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Cleveland Indians)
Opponent: Winston-Salem Dash, 6:30 p.m. game time.
Calvin Falwell Field, from the outside:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day: Did I mention that they only played one inning before the rains came?
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Lynchburg Hillcats. https://t.co/Ie5fPRyHfs
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015