Visit Lynchburg's Bank of the James Stadium
Welcome to Bank of the James Stadium, now in its ninth decade and still going strong. Soak up scenic views and bold hues within a throwback environment, and make sure to leave room for a Cheesy Western.
Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland affiliate since 2015)
Established: 1963 (as the Lynchburg White Sox)
Ballpark: Bank of the James Stadium (opened in 1940)
League: Low-A East, North Division
Notable Alumni: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden, Jose Bautista, Jeff Reardon
Lynchburg, Virginia, is a small city situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is known as the "City of Seven Hills" or, more simply, "The Hill City." One of its very first professional baseball teams, in the 1890s, was named the Hill Climbers. Today's Minor League team, similarly, is the Hillcats. These upward-sloping entities bookend a long line of Lynchburg baseball teams, most of which bore the name of their Major League parent club. Lynchburg, which has hosted a Minor League team in every season since 1963, was a member of the Class A Advanced Carolina League from 1966 through 2019. In 2021, as part of a larger realignment of Minor League Baseball, the Hillcats shifted to the Low-A East League.
The Hillcats' name was adopted in 1995, in tandem with an affiliation switch from Boston to Pittsburgh. Lynchburg then partnered with Cincinnati (2010) and Atlanta (2011-'14) before beginning its current affiliation with Cleveland. A "Name the Team" contest was held in 2016, offering unorthodox choices such as Derechos and Love Apples, but fans overwhelmingly voted to keep the Hillcats' moniker. The team's current logo and bold green-and-blue color scheme was unveiled prior to the 2017 season.
Bank of the James Stadium
3180 Fort Avenue
Lynchburg, VA, 24501
Dimensions: right field, 325; center field, 390; left field, 325
Bank of the James Stadium, known simply as City Stadium for the bulk of its existence, is the fifth-oldest ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball. The first game ever played there, in 1940, was an exhibition between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers. From 2005 through 2019 the facility was known as Calvin Falwell Field, in honor of longtime Lynchburg Baseball Corporation president Calvin Falwell. (Falwell's cousin, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, founded Lynchburg's Liberty University.)
Bank of the James Stadium was built at the same time as an adjacent football stadium, located just beyond the third-base side of the ballpark. As one would expect from a facility that is over 80 years old, it has been renovated extensively on multiple occasions. The most recent round of improvements were implemented after the Elmore Sports Group bought the club in 2016. This included a new playing surface, parking lot, netting, front row seats, party decks and social areas. Portions of the bleachers were removed in order to accommodate these latter two additions, creating a more open and dynamic ballpark experience.
Nonetheless, Bank of the James Stadium has a classic feel. How could it not, given its age and location? The ballpark looms above fans as they make their way from the parking lot to the front entrance, with a staircase leading further upwards to the main concourse. The imposing, boxy exterior belies a charming interior, featuring a covered grandstand and seating extending down the base lines. A party deck is located down the third-base line; a three-tiered social area on the first-base side features rows of picnic tables painted in vivid blues and greens. It's all set against a backdrop of rolling hills, which is of course what Lynchburg is known for.
One would be hard-pressed to find a better-named concession stand than the Hillcats' Hot Diggity Dog Weiner Emporium. Frankfurter options at this fine establishment include a mac and cheese dog topped with bacon and barbecue sauce. The Pitchin' Kitchen, meanwhile, offers "Burgers, Fries, Drinks and More." The "more" part of that equation includes the three-layer BBQ parfait, featuring baked beans on top of pulled pork on top of mashed potatoes.
The Hillcats' most unique food offering is the Cheesy Western, available at a standalone concourse kiosk. This sandwich is modeled after the signature dish at Lynchburg's Texas Inn; it consists of a burger topped with onion, pickles, sweet relish, cheese and a fried egg. As for (alcoholic) drinks, the Devil's Backbone Taproom is a concourse bar that serves beers from the local brewery of the same name.
Southpaw the Hillcat took up residence at the ballpark in 2017, after the team adopted him from the Lynchburg Humane Society. He is a graduate of the Feline Training Academy, and went on to receive a Masters Degree in Mascoting. Southpaw is over six feet tall and has bright green fur, so he's pretty easy to spot within the confines of the ballpark.
The Lower Bluffwalk, in downtown Lynchburg, offers scenic views of the James River and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most of the businesses along the bluffwalk operate out of industrial buildings, many of which still feature their original signage. Public art is displayed prominently, and food and beverage options abound.
At Bank of the James Stadium, there is a row of "Bedford Boys Seats" in section 4. An accompanying plaque explains that these seats were "placed in memory of the 19 'Bedford Boys'...who made the ultimate sacrifice on D-Day." Bedford, located to the west of Lynchburg, is now home to the National D-Day Memorial.
There are plenty of further opportunities to explore the history of Lynchburg and the surrounding area. Destinations include the Legacy Museum of African American History, the Monacan Ancestral Museum and Liberty University's Jerry Falwell Museum.
Food and Drink
From 1906 through 1912, Lynchburg fielded a Minor League team named the Shoemakers. This moniker was a nod to Lynchburg's Craddock Terry Shoe Company, which was founded in 1888 and grew to be the fifth-largest shoe company in the world. The Craddock Terry Hotel, and its onsite Shoemakers American Grille, operate out of a former shoe company building.
Fifth and Federal Station, whose name is its address, is located in a renovated gas station. The establishment specializes in bourbon and barbecue, and regularly hosts live music.
The Texas Inn, commonly known as the T-Room, has two Lynchburg locations. This 24-hour diner is the home of the Cheesy Western.
Lynchburg, and the surrounding area, is home to a number of historic, higher-end hotels. Bed and Breakfasts are also an option, and chain hotels are prevalent in the region as well. These are especially prevalent south of the ballpark, clustered around Liberty University.
The Minor League team closest to the Hillcats are their Low-A East leaguemates the Salem Red Sox, located approximately 65 miles to the west. Virginia's three other Minor League teams are all located on the eastern side of the state: the Fredericksburg Nationals, Richmond Flying Squirrels and Norfolk Tides. The Hillcats could also be incorporated into a road trip itinerary incorporating North Carolina ballclubs such as the Winston-Salem Dash, Greensboro Grasshoppers, Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats. If you're heading in that direction from Lynchburg, consider incorporating summer-collegiate Appalachian League teams such as the Pulaski River Turtles and Danville Otterbots.
The Road to Cleveland
The Hillcats are the only team in the Cleveland farm system who are not located in Ohio. From Lynchburg, the team's prospects progress to the Cleveland suburb of Lake County, Akron, Columbus and, finally, Cleveland.