Then and Now: Billy Sample Field

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Salem’s minor league baseball history began at the municipal field.

The seven-acre lot, located between Boulevard, Florida and 6th Street, was originally planned for an elementary school. But due to lack of funding, a school was never built there, according to “The Diamond in the Valley,” a history article published in Salem magazine in 2014.

Instead, the city opted for a baseball diamond, which included 2,000-seat concrete bleachers built into the hillside at the site. He made his debut in 1932.

About seven years later, in 1939, the Salem-Roanoke Friends team became the first minor league team to play on the field. Over the years, the team’s name changed to the Salem Rebels, Salem Pirates, and Salem Buccaneers as new affiliate teams took over.

But in 1990, Major League Baseball released a set of minimum rules for stadiums. Salem had a decision to make: renovate the municipal grounds or build a new stadium.

The city chose the latter. After all, Municipal Field was landlocked. Players often hit balls into the yards of neighboring houses.

The new 6,500-seat stadium, called Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium, opened in 1995 on a site between Salem Civic Center and Salem Stadium.

Fast forward to today. Area schools, such as Salem High School and Andrew Lewis Middle School, still play games on the historic municipal grounds. Additionally, weekend tournaments and Virginia High School League championships are held on the grounds.

Only now is the field called Billy Sample Field at Kiwanis Park. In 2019, he was named after Sample, a former Major League Baseball star who grew up in Salem, played for Andrew Lewis High School and went on to play for the Rangers, Yankees and Braves before to retire.

“Salem was a great place to grow up and a great place athletically,” Sample said in a 2019 Salem Magazine article.

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