Situated at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia is Lynchburg, a pleasant small city defined by its seven hills. Organized baseball has been around a long time in the city, and since 1966, Lynchburg has fielded a team in the Carolina League. Seven times they have taken that league’s championship, including recent titles in 2009 and 2012. Many different Major League teams have sent their players to the Hill City, and for many years, the baseball team took the nickname of their affiliate. In 1995, that changed with the arrival of the appropriate “Hillcats” nickname, and it has fit well ever since. The Atlanta Braves are currently the parent club, and Lynchburg is the only minor league organization under Atlanta’s umbrella not to be known as “Braves.”
City Stadium was completed in 1940, with Lynchburg baseball playing there ever since. The original stadium did not have any of the modern-day amenities, so a major renovation took place in 2004, which completely changed the ballpark. Longtime Lynchburg baseball-lifer Calvin Falwell was also honored by the renaming of the stadium. The renovation turned this generally uncomfortable ballpark into a facility commonly seen across much of minor league baseball, with the only reminder of its age being the overhanging roof and support beams in the seating bowl.
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A pair of primary concession stands do not stray far from the ballpark classics, like hot dogs ($3.25), cheeseburgers ($5.25) and chicken sandwiches ($5.50). The only exceptions of something a little different are popcorn shrimp ($6.50) and turkey burgers ($5.50). Domino's provides the pizza. Snacks and beverages are sufficient, and there are a few other side carts that have additional offerings, but the overall feel of the food & beverage is average. Nothing missing, but nothing special. Beverages include products from Pepsi, Budweiser and MillerCoors. One of the more popular items is the $17 pitcher of beer that works perfectly for groups of friends and family. Refills go for $13. Also, a beer cart on the third base side includes Devil's Backbone Beer on tap, which is brewed in nearby Lexington.
The ballpark is naturally designed into a hillside, and this creates almost a natural amphitheatre curved around the diamond. It's too bad that seating was not located at a higher elevation to take advantage of the beautiful hilly surroundings in the region. Instead, fans barely see the hills off in the distance beyond the outfield wall stacked with double-decker ads. The seating itself is comfortable, with wide chairbacks. The overhang covers a good deal of the seats, which is nice on either hot or wet days. Unfortunately, bleachers are used for the last three sections on either side, except for the rows near the dugout. General Admission could be a little confusing, as many would associate that with the bleachers. However, in Lynchburg, tickets dubbed as GA mean that fans can sit in those covered seats behind home plate (sections 4-8). A pair of picnic areas can be found at each end of the ballpark, and the luxury suites on top of the roof provide a very close and great vantage point of the game. It's amazing how City Stadium transformed into a brand-new ballpark after the major renovation over 10 years ago.
In left field is a bare-bones scoreboard that is almost hidden by all the ads, while right field includes a dated graphics board. Entertainment for the kids can be found in a small area tucked in near the end of the concourse on the third base side. Meanwhile, between-inning promotions are pretty standard and not too over the top.
Calvin Falwell Field is located in a nondescript area about 10 minutes south of downtown. A mixed bag of stuff makes up the nearby surroundings, none of it enticing for visitors. This includes a cemetery, a maintenance yard, housing units and various industries or businesses. One notable spot is right next door, where the other "City Stadium" is located. This 9,000 seat facility is home to high school football and soccer.
Visitors looking to explore Lynchburg are much better off heading downtown, where the hilly center of the city is full of great spots to check out. Climbing the steps at Monument Terrace is a must, along with a visit to the city's museum in the refurbished old courthouse. For food, there are plenty of places, while the Depot Grill along the James River is a great choice.
History buffs are bound to find something in the surrounding region worth a visit. All of the following are within a 30-minute drive of Lynchburg: Appomattox Court House National Park, Thomas Jefferson's Poplar Forest and the National D-Day Memorial. While the immediate area around Calvin Falwell Field is lacking, the rest of Lynchburg and the region is not.
About half of the place was full for the game I attended, and the fans were made up of a wide range of people (young, old, families, etc.). It was a typical minor league baseball crowd, which meant that many left before the end of the game. This was a shame, because it was a thrilling walk-off win for the home side. Despite very good media coverage of the Hillcats, the team perennially is last in the Carolina League attendance standings. The league championship winning game in 2012 barely drew over 1,000 fans to the stadium.
Lynchburg can be a hard place to get to, as the Interstate system in Virginia bypassed this neck of the woods. Be prepared to use some country roads to reach the city, especially from I-81, where hilly driving is inevitable. Once in town, it is pretty simple to reach the ballpark, as the Lynchburg Expressway (US-29 Business) provides access to appropriately-named Stadium Road. While parking looks straightforward, the space is limited. There is only room for about 700-800 cars, which is not sufficient for a ballpark holding 4,000. Most nights, the lot is ok, but I could see situations where parking spills out to some of the nearby side roads. The parking lot itself also has some dangers, as it is clearly in the firing line of foul balls leaving the stadium on the first base side. Also, be careful at the exit as I watched a half dozen cars bottom out at one of the departure points.
The concourse inside is a little tight, but there is enough space to handle crowds on most nights. Only one bathroom each is available for men, women and family, but again, rarely is this an issue.
Free parking, free programs and ticket prices of $9 - $10 make Calvin Falwell Field a worthy place to visit. Food prices on average have gone up a quarter in the last couple years, but they remain affordable compared to other parks in the minors. For anyone who has not been to old City Stadium in more than a decade, come back to see what a remarkably different ballpark it has become.
Before stepping into Calvin Falwell Field, head through the doors to the right of the main entrance. Before reaching the elevator for the suite level, check out the walls decorated with plaques for members of the Lynchburg Area Sports Hall of Fame. Also in this room is a display case full of random Hillcat memorabilia that is interesting to check out. Included is a collection of giveaway bobbleheads and a bottle of sparkling cider used in the celebration of the 2012 Carolina League title.
At the game I attended was Jay Daniels, who sang an absolutely beautiful rendition of the National Anthem before the ballgame. I'm not sure if he is the permanent anthem singer, but he certainly deserves to be.
Calvin Falwell Field may look like a typical minor league park, but there is much more behind the story. A major renovation of City Stadium back in 2004 turned this uncomfortable and outdated field into a place that all of Lynchburg is proud of. With a rich history in the Carolina League, the Hillcats have continued their winning ways in an enjoyable stadium in which to watch baseball.
Calvin Falwell Field is located in Lynchburg, VA and is home to the Lynchburg Hillcats, the Advanced A minor league affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. The Hillcats play in the Northern Division of the Carolina League.
Lynchburg City Stadium, as it was originally known, opened in 1940 and has been through many renovations through the years. The latest one was in 2004 and this final remodel brought the stadium up to modern standards with amenities such as skyboxes, a remodeled press box and picnic areas.
Lynchburg has been home to minor league baseball for over 50 years and has been a Class A affiliate for 8 major league teams. Many All-Stars and notables have played in Lynchburg, including Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jose Bautista and Billy Beane, current GM of the Oakland A’s and subject of the movie Moneyball.
This field is an entirely average facility, with ever-present bleacher seating and an overcrowded concourse trying to do too much. Staff here were very helpful and friendly, and the fans were more than eager to be helpful to an out-of-towner. If you are ever in Lynchburg, ask the staff there about the "stinky cat". You won't be disappointed.
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