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 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (this is Part Three) 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.
We have now reached the third and final post in this Salem series and, if you’ve been following along so far this season, then you know that the third and final post is, invariably, dedicated to food. So what kind of concession items can you get at the Salem Red Sox’s home of Lewis-Gale Field? We’ll get to that in a moment.
I want to start, however, by highlighting something that you can sometimes get (but not on the Sunday afternoon in which I was in attendance): Baum’s BBQ truck, a vehicular food purveyor with an exalted reputation, sets up shop every Friday and Saturday night.
Salem Red Sox general manager Ryan Shelton is a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, a locale oft-referred to as “the barbecue capital of the world.” He told me that, with all due respect to Owensboro, Baum’s serves the best barbecue he’s ever had. I wish I had a picture of me eating it, to post right here. Use your imagination:
But, Baum’s or no Baum’s, the Salem Red Sox food show must go on. The first order of business, as always, was to meet with my designated eater (you know, the individual who consumes the ballpark food that my gluten-free diet prohibits). At Lewis-Gale Field, that would be one Jennifer Frye.
Jennifer and her family have recently moved to nearby Roanoke, with Jennifer taking a job as an environmental supervisor for the US Army Corps of Engineers. (Come to think of it, I should have asked her for information regarding “environmentally protected wastelands,” a term I was still confused about after hearing it applied to the portion of the Elizabeth River that runs behind the Norfolk Tides’ home of Harbor Park.)
Jennifer said that she volunteered to be the designated eater because she’ll “do anything for Minor League Baseball. It’s good to me, and I’m good to it.” Her two sons — ages 13 and 9 — did not materialize at any point during her time with me at the concession stands, with Jennifer remarking that they were “worried that Mom’s gonna embarrass them.”
Fair enough, kids. But I guarantee that, when all is said and done, your childhood will have been greatly enhanced by having a Mom with a fun, adventurous and humorous spirit. This spirit was shared by the entirely non-embarrassed adults in Jennifer’s party — husband Jim, sister Justine, and her sister’s husband Jonathan (Justine and Jonathan live outside of Frederick, Maryland, reminding me that I have yet to make it to a Keys game).
To see all posts from my June 28, 2015 visit to the Salem Red Sox (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.
As part one of this blog series concluded, a ballgame was ready to begin on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Salem, Virginia. Now, as we begin part two, the ballgame has just begun. These narrative stakes, they just keep escalating.
The first batter of the ballgame was Lynchburg’s Luigi Rodriguez, who was greeted with the Super Mario Bros theme music. Rodriguez must have just ingested mushrooms, however, as he powered up and launched the first pitch of the game over the fence. And just like that, the Hillcats had the lead.
Rodriguez’s dinger just about fulfilled my baseball-watching quota for the day, so I commenced upon more ballpark wanderings. First up was a meeting with my designated eater. Following standard operating protocol, that will be documented in the following post. Stay tuned.
I then returned to the concourse, where I was able to immediately confirm that it was still a beautiful day for baseball in Salem. Both at Lewis-Gale Field…
…and at the adjacent Mini-Fenway Wiffle ball field.
It was also a beautiful day for collecting autographs from a canine mascot duo. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing. That’s Misty on the left, and Mugsy on the right.
I was glad that I hadn’t missed Misty, but I had missed the previous evening’s “Mullet For Men’s Health Night” promotion. I appreciate the team’s effort to make me feel included on this front (don’t touch the back).
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.
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.)
And, 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.)
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.
A quick shift of position in a rightward direction results in an even better view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
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.)
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
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.
Kevin 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.
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 28, 2015: LewisGale Field, home of the Salem Red Sox (Class A Advanced affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)
Opponent: Lynchburg Hillcats, 4:05 p.m. game time.
LewisGale Field, from the outside:
Your groundbreaking and subversive ballpark joke of the day, Salem Red Sox. https://t.co/cqJkCZYhj8
— Benjamin Hill (@bensbiz) June 28, 2015
6/29: Potomac Nationals
6/30: West Virginia Black Bears