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Salem Baseball History

 

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Professional baseball in the Roanoke Valley can be traced all the way back to 1887 when Roanoke Machine Works fielded its first professional team, and played all over the area through the 1888 season. Many different professional teams graced the Valley over the next 50 years, culminating in Salem fielding its first team in 1939. One thing that has remained constant over the past century and a half is the passion of the fans in the Roanoke Valley:

 

The Salem team relocated to Roanoke in 1943 and for the first time was affiliated with a major league team. In the late 1940's the Roanoke Red Sox or "RoSox" pulled off an upset over the parent Red Sox playing at Maher Field in Roanoke. Their tenure in the region came to an end after the 1953 season.

With no professional baseball in the Valley, Salem jumped on the opportunity to field a team for the 1955 season. The Salem Athletic Club fielded the Salem Rebels, an independent team to play in the Appalachian League at Municipal Stadium. The 1955 team featured Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, whose powerful bat eventually helped lead the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1967 World Series. Cepeda was the first of many future Major League stars to come through the Roanoke Valley.

In 1960 the team joined the Pittsburgh Pirates system and also spent some time as a San Francisco Giants affiliate in the early sixties prior to joining the Carolina League in 1968. In 1972, the Rebels name was retired and the team became the Salem Pirates to show a closer affiliation to their major league club in Pittsburgh. That 1972 squad featured future All-Star Dave Parker as Salem compiled a 79-58 record on their way to a Carolina League Championship.

Just two years later Salem once again dominated the Carolina League. The Pirates won both halves of the regular season, winning 87 games overall en route to the 1974 Carolina League Championship.

Salem changed names again in 1980 as the team switched affiliates to the San Diego Padres and then the Texas Rangers over the net few seasons. The newly named Salem Redbirds made the playoffs in their first two seasons but then suffered through the worst season in Salem history losing over 100 games in 1982. After continued struggles on the field the Redbirds switched affiliates, moving back with Pittsburgh in 1987 and changing the team name to the Salem Buccaneers. Famous Redbirds include former Philadelphia Phillies closer Mitch Williams and Texas Rangers pitcher Kenny Rogers.

In its first season back with the Pirates organization the Salem Buccaneers captured the 1987 Carolina League Championship followed by a Division Winner in 1988. Even though the Buccaneers struggled over the following seasons many Major Leaguers came through Salem including San Francisco Giants OF Moises Alou and Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield.

Mid-way through the 1995 season, Salem bid farewell to professional baseball at Old Municipal Field. It housed professional baseball in the area for over 60 years before giving way to Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium.

At a final cost of $10.1 million, Salem Memorial Stadium was constructed for the brand new Salem Avalanche, an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, in August of 1995. The 2001 season saw Salem's fourth Carolina League Championship as the Avalanche won the title after reaching the playoffs as a Wild Card. Prior to the 2006 season, the Avalanche and the City of Salem struck a deal with Lewis-Gale Medical Center to rename Salem's ballpark.

In 2003, the team switched affiliates to the Houston Astros organization, keeping the Avalanche name. The Avalanche reached the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, their first two appearances as an Astros affiliate and their first back-to-back post-season action since the 1988 and 1989 seasons.

Salem played its 14th season in "the new ballpark" in 2008, but it was the sixth and final season as part of the Houston Astros farm system. Salem joined the Boston Red Sox organization prior to 2009.

Prior to the 2009 season, the team changed affiliations from Houston to the Boston Red Sox, and changed its nickname to Red Sox to reflect their Boston ownership. Chad Epperson was named manager, and Salem ended the season 67-72 and in fifth place. The Red Sox finished second in the first half with a 32-37 record and 35-35 in the second half to win the Southern Division Pennant. The Red Sox swept the Winston-Salem Dash in three games to advance to the Mills Cup Finals, but were swept by the Lynchburg Hillcats in three games.

Kevin Boles took the helm of the Red Sox in 2010. Salem started the season 21-7 and finished the first half 42-28 in second place. The Sox slumped to 31-37 in the second half and finished last. Overall, the Red Sox finished 73-65 in second place.

Bruce Crabbe got the nod as manager in 2011. Salem began the year 20-7 but only won 11 of the final 42 games of the first half and finished last with a 31-38 record. Salem went 33-37 in the second half (3rd) and finished in seventh place overall with a 64-75 mark.

Billy McMillon was named manager for the 2012 season. The Red Sox finished second in the first half with a 41-28-1 record, but sagged to 27-41 (4th) in the second half. Overall, Salem finished fourth with a 68-69-1 record.

McMillon returned for his second year as manager in what would be a truly special 2013 season. The Red Sox finished third in the first half with a 33-37 record, but rebounded with a 43-27 record to claim the second-half pennant. The Red Sox won 24 of their last 32 regular season games and swept the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and the Potomac Nationals in five games to win the Mills Cup. Salem finished red hot, winning 29 of their last 37 games overall. On September 10th, designated hitter Sean Coyle went 2 for 3 with two doubles and four RBI to lead the Red Sox over Potomac 6-4 to win the championship, earning himself MVP honors.

Carlos Febles was named manager for the 2014 season. The Red Sox finished second in the first half with a 35-33 record, and second in the second half with a 33-35 record. Overall, the Sox finished third with a 68-68 record. Salem fell to the Myrtle Beach Pelicans two games to one in the Southern Division Finals.

Febles returned for his second season as manager in 2015. The Red Sox finished second in the first half with a 38-32 record and last in the second half with a 28-41 record, winding up fifth overall with a 66-73 record.

Joe Oliver was named manager for the 2016 season. The Red Sox had three of the top prospects in the Boston organization to begin the season: out elder Andrew Benintendi (MLB debut 8/2/16), second baseman Yoan Moncada (MLB debut 9/2/16), and third baseman Rafael Devers. Salem won the first-half pennant (their first since 1988) with a 46-23 record. The Sox finished second in the second half with a 44-26 record. Overall, Salem finished with an 87-52 record to lead the Carolina League for the season. Myrtle Beach defeated the Sox in three games in the Southern Division Finals.

Oliver returned as manager in 2017, which saw the Sox fall just short of the playoffs. They were nipped by less than two games in each half, including losing on a tie-breaker to end the first half. This didn't overshadow a stellar performance by star third baseman Michael Chavis, who socked 17 homers in just the first half and set a new Salem Memorial Ballpark record with 12 homers at home.