There’s a classic rites-of-spring tie between the valley in ’52 and the valley today: baseball!
In the spring of ’52, the Roanoke Red Sox of the Class B Piedmont League experienced one of the high points of their eight-year run in the league, which was marked by two championships.
This was at Maher Field (near where it exists today on Reserve Avenue), and the big attraction was an exhibition game against the parent Boston Red Sox, led by one of the greatest players in the game’s history, Ted Williams. The Splendid Splinter nothwithstanding, the hometown minor-league boys won.
The team went downhill from that day, and was disbanded in July 1953, two years before the league as a whole expired. The Roanoke Valley would be without baseball for only for a year, as in 1955, the Salem Rebels entered the Appalachian League.
The 55-year history of Salem baseball takes what is generally seen as a great step forward this year with the coming to the valley, once again, of the Boston Red Sox as the parent team. The Salem Red Sox begin the 2009 season at home on April 9, against the Frederick Keys, Class A team of the Baltimore Orioles, in what Salem Sox General Manager John Katz says will be “the biggest opening night ever – with fireworks, live ragtime on the concourse, jugglers and, best of all, Guy on Stilts!”
Oh yeah, there are a few other ties to ’52 as well. It does feel like a bit of a fuddy-duddy award, but maybe that’s because it’s been decades since the Roanoke Valley won an All America City award from the National Civic League. The year 1952 saw Roanoke City win the first of the valley’s nation-leading six such awards, on the heels of a period that saw significant growth in population, geographic size and infrastructure in the city.
The same year, Roanoke got its first television station, as WSLS (Channel 10) signed on, showing the black-and-white likes of “I Love Lucy” and “The Dinah Shore Show.”
To help celebrate Independence Day, a small children’s zoo opened atop Mill Mountain, with a nursery rhyme theme.
Fifty-seven years later, there are at least mild parallels to ’52. The zoo is working to meet a $500,000 challenge grant from the city. Channel 10, as we go to press, is (as with all TV stations) set to go all digital, at least by summer. And Roanoke City, while not vying for All America status, once again in 2008 was ranked at the top of cities in its size range by the Center for Digital Government.
History in the Making
The coming of the Boston Red Sox as the parent team of the Salem Class A squad will bring, in the words of General Manager John Katz, “a whole new altitude and attitude,” keyed by “Red Sox culture” and carried out by stronger staff involvement “from when you get out of your car till when you get back in.”
Katz also mentions new uniforms and new talent, with the former including three different home uniforms and the latter coming from the only team in the majors whose minor league system had a collective better-than-.500 record last year. (Houston – former parent club – had a minor league system with a record more than 150 games below .500.)
Several events to keep an eye out for:
• Pink in the Park, a four-day event around Mothers Day weekend, features pink jerseys, pink baseballs, etc. to benefit breast cancer prevention and treatment.
• Two for Tuesday will keep the buy-one get-one and take on a new theme of Go Green/Save Green, complete with environmental tips and baseball cards.
• “We’re going to give away a couple of cruises,” Katz says.
• And on one Saturday night, Katz admits, instead of the usual Saturday Night Live music, it’ll be Awful Night, featuring none other than the Salem Sox staff doing the very worst they can to be a “band.”