My Weekend with the Salem Red Sox

Spending some time with the Low-A squad

Salem Red Sox

I fell in love with baseball because of the Salem Red Sox.

Not growing up near a city with a Major League team, I discovered baseball on television with the Cubs on WGN and the Os and Nationals on MASN.

But it wasn’t until seeing it in person at a Salem Red Sox game (I grew up down the street in neighboring Roanoke) that I became completely hooked. They’re the reason I love baseball, they’re the reason I became a Boston Red Sox fan (I narrowly avoided being a Colorado Rockies fan as they were the Salem Avalanche just before I became a fan), and I still love seeing Salem games to this day.

I saw all of our favorite players from the last decade come up through the Carolina League: Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Raffy Devers, Jackie Bradley Jr., you get the idea.

And I still think of the coulda-beens that wowed me when they were there: Kolbrin Vitek, Shannon Wilkerson, Bryce Brentz — that list is long.

I’ve since moved away from Salem, but my family is still there, so I go to games whenever I’m home.

But I didn’t have to travel too far to see them for a weekend series during Memorial Day Weekend as they were on the road for a series in Northern Virginia against the Fredericksburg Nationals (who until last year were the Potomac Nationals — who can claim the award of saddest professional ballpark I’ve ever seen).

The Girl Who Loved Nick Pivetta and myself went to college in Fredericksburg (and, of course, fell in love there), so we’re always looking for a good excuse to visit the old haunts.

A holiday Monday off to travel back and some tantalizing promotions sealed the deal. We decided to spend a weekend with the Salem Red Sox.

Salem Red Sox on Twitter

The first thrill for us was seeing the new Fredericksburg ballpark. Like I said, Potomac was so pitiful. I’ve seen nicer little league parks — that’s not a joke.

The new stadium, completed in 2020 (and used as the Nationals’ alternate site in the shortened season), is great. It’s gotta be one of the nicest low-A parks, complete with a home run deck in left field, great food and drink options, and lots of space to move around thanks to ample standing room.

Our first night there, Friday night, only consisted of seeing the park as there was no baseball to be had. A bad storm crossed over town and after an hour of waiting out a lost cause, they called a doubleheader for Saturday.

With 14 innings of ball to be seen on Saturday, we had plenty of time to explore some more and bounce around to a few different seats. We sampled a little bit of everything: seats (where had tickets, the home run porch, the left-field bleachers, the picnic area we shouldn’t have been in, we played a little catch in the grass over the fence in center), the beer (6 Bears & A Goat Brewing knows what’s up), the food (it’s fine), and picked up some souvenirs (we get something from every ballpark we go to).

And, of course, there was some baseball. Fredericksburg is clearly a better baseball team from top to bottom and so they did a lot of whooping over the weekend. Close games didn’t really feel close and the one Salem win we saw was a squeaker.

I talked about some of the players that caught my eye over the weekend in the Bleacher Brawls Prospect Pipeline video on the team, so if you want to hear about some guys like Blaze Jordan, Wikelman Gonzalez, and Eddinson Paulino — head over there.

But my two guys going forward are Nathan Hickey and Kier Meredith.

You’ll see why in the video, but Smooch Hickey and Kier’s pearly whites will melt your heart. Red Sox fans have lovable folks to look forward to.

Marcelo Mayer was still on the IL during the trip, so we didn’t see him. I’ll report back if he’s still there the next time I see Salem play.

But we did see one other exciting player: Stephen Strasburg.

The 2019 World Series MVP has seen a grand total of seven starts since signing a seven-year, $245 million contract in 2020 thanks to some lingering injuries and surgeries.

He passed through Fred on his rehab assignment tour, starting the Sunday matinee and the conclusion of the series. Salem shackled him a little in his first outing the Tuesday prior, so I think they wanted to run him out there one more time.

Between his appearance and the Fred Nats jersey giveaway, the ballpark was packed for our final game. We had to get there almost three hours early (How often do you have to do that for a single A game? Never?) and our place in line was still only worth a jersey from the last box.

Stras only allowed one walk in his five innings of work — he was totally dominant. It seemed like the game was decided early, so we decided to get up from our kinda poopy seats and head over to the Salem bullpen. There’s a little party area that oversees the visiting bullpen, but it was empty, so we saddled up and watched the relievers.

I love bullpen politics: who is used when, why, getting up to stretch, getting up to throw, sitting down — for some reason it’s one of my favorite parts of the game. Ballparks that let you near the pens (like Camden Yards) are some of my favorites because you can leave your seats behind and see those decisions up close. Fredericksburg joins that list.

We chatted a little with the relievers (while trying to leave them alone to work at the same time), got a few tossups, and enjoyed the view from right field.

We left that game with some balls, a few new jerseys, and a whole mess of Fred Nats merch.

We left Fredericksburg with smiles on our faces. It was nice to be back, nice to see the new ballpark. We enjoyed seeing some future All-Stars up close, getting some souvenirs, and chatting with a surprising amount of local Red Sox fans.

Salem comes back to Fredericksburg in July. The Fred Nats are running a Christmas in July promotion all weekend and I’m a sucker for minor league promos.

We’ll be back then.

Want to chat Red Sox? Check out Bleacher Brawls.

You can also email me: theboywholovedjoekelly@gmail.com

Want to keep updated with the column? Find it on Instagram @theboywholovedjoekelly and Twitter @boywholovedmlb

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