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Minor League Baseball in the Hill City

May 22, 2011 - Al Stephenson
When I told my friends that I was going to visit my daughter in Lynchburg, they got excited and wanted to know if I was going to go to the distillery. I was quick to point out to them that they had the wrong Lynchburg. Though a trip to the Jack Daniels plant in Tennessee might be interesting, I was headed for the Virginia variety of the city and baseball was going to be my entertainment.

Ashley is the Director of Promotions for the Lynchburg Hillcats, the High Class A farm team of the Atlanta Braves, so when my wife and I hit town we went directly to City Stadium. There we were introduced to members of the Hillcats front office. We were received warmly by General Manager Paul Sunwall, Assistant G.M. Ronnie Roberts and several others who have become Ashley's new family. Later that night we went bowling with Andrew Chesser, Zach Willis and Ty Kim - staff members in charge of group sales, tickets and concessions respectively - and an interesting fellow called Salad Bar. When I asked Ashley what his real name was, she couldn't tell me.

Salad is a former batboy with the Hillcats who now volunteers his time helping out in any way he can. He told me that the nickname was given to him during his batboy days by Randy Myers. Many of you may remember the big left-hander when he toiled in the Cincinnati Reds bullpen. Salad Bar may be a volunteer, but it doesn't take long to see that he is an integral part of this friendly group. Minor league staffs tend to be close knit as they frequently put in 14-hour days together when the team is at home.

On Friday morning Anita and I went to Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, a fun stop for this former history teacher. We spent Friday afternoon watching the practice for an air show that would take place on Saturday and Sunday. As luck would have it we were in town the same weekend as the Blue Angels, who thrilled us with their precision, though they flew so close to our motel that we had to cover our ears several times.

We took in games on Friday and Saturday evenings. I have to admit that I sat with pride as my daughter took a hand held microphone to the home plate area. There she introduced a local elementary school principal who informed the fans that he was going to pass out awards to honor students from his school. Ashley then gave each student a chance to tell the crowd their name and grade level. The first youngster tried to take the microphone away from her, but she held on to it while the students spoke. Who knows where the microphone would end up if you let kids pass it around.

As a baseball fan I was tuned in to the game. Between innings, I was not heading to the concession stand (well at least not every inning) as I wanted to watch the promotions staff in action. Several contests are held between innings and it gives a minor league contest a feel that is so different from being at a major league game.

The Hillcats lost both games to the Potomac Nationals when I was there. I saw some talent however. I really like the way shortstop Andrelton Simmons handles the leather. Outfielders L.V. Ware, Todd Cunningham and Keenan Wiley also impressed me. One of the promos on Friday nights is allowing a fan to announce the hitters over the P.A. during a Hillcat at bat. The youngster that had the honors on this night had a little trouble with first baseman Joey Terdoslavich. He got it out eventually and the fans cheered the effort.

Potomac had a couple of players that got my attention. One was Cutter Dykstra. Yes that is Lenny's son, and Nails was in attendance for the weekend. Another was Steven Souza who had five hits in the two games including going deep twice. He also got plunked in the thigh and for a minute I thought he was going to charge the mound. Welcome to the game of baseball Mr. Souza.

The view from my seat suggests that going to a minor league baseball game is a lot of fun. Try it yourself, and if you are in Lynchburg (not that one!) give a shout out to Ashley or any members of the Hillcat staff.

They will do their best to help you enjoy your experience at the ballpark.


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