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Take Me Home, Country Roads

Posted by Sean Rowland on May 23, 2014

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Ahh, those beautiful lyrics from John Denver. This weekend, I’ll be checking out those country roads (well mostly main roads) in that song’s subject, West Virginia! There are two stadium visits on the itinerary, with the first being in the state capitol of Charleston. A visit to Appalachian Power Park will see the Power take on Lakewood. Sunday and early Monday will be spent around Beckley and Lewisburg, then we’ll cross the Appalachians over to Virginia for a visit to Lynchburg. Charming old City Stadium (now known as Calvin Falwell Field) is where we will spend the evening the HillCats host Winston-Salem. Before heading home Tuesday, a stop will be made at Appomattox Court House, site of the Civil War’s end. Let’s give the old running diary a try…

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Saturday
We woke up with the sun as it was a 5:30 AM departure from Jersey to try and see some of Charleston during the afternoon. It was perfect weather on a smooth drive and we got into the capital city around 1:30 PM. The afternoon made me wish we spent the whole day in Charleston as I was pleasantly surprised by the Capitol Complex. First off, it was the Vandalia Gathering on the surrounding lawns, which is the ultimate West Virginia festival. The celebration of Appalachia includes music, food, arts and crafts. It’s the music that makes the festival with stages featuring concerts highlighting those playing the banjo, fiddle and mandolin. Better yet are the small little jam sessions that break out amongst strangers and friends. With a pepperoni roll in hand, it was a very enjoyable time.

The Capitol Complex is worth a day of exploring and it is highlighted by the gold domed building along the Kanawha River. Statues and plaques enhance the surrounding walk, while inside the building is dominated by marble. We didn’t get a chance to take a tour, but it was open for exploring the main hall. Afterwards, across the way is the West Virginia State Museum, one of the best museums that I have seen (and there have been many). Remarkably, it’s free! The set-up goes thru the state’s history in chronological order via a unique accurate path. On the sides are 26 visually intriguing Discovery Rooms. I could have used some more hours inside, but two would suffice and I would love to come back.

It was a long day, but no rest for the weary as Stadium #148 was the main attraction and that meant heading a mile into downtown at Charleston’s East End, where the Single-A West Virginia franchise plays in Appalachian Power Park. Before getting there, I want to note how weird Charleston’s roads are, despite the tiny city size (specifically near the Capitol and again by our hotel near the river). Anyway, I really liked The App as it goes beyond just blending in with the city. Part of an existing brick building is incorporated into the stadium on the first base line. The defining feature also is a natural set-up for the suites, which are set further back, allowing for a wide, open-air and festive walkway. While I’m not a fan of the shallow and small seating bowl that doesn’t provide the best sightlines, there’s a lot to love with this intimate, charming and eye-appealing park. As for the game….yikes. West Virginia got smacked by Lakewood 7-0 as the Power became the first home baseball shutout I have seen since New Hampshire in 2009. Topping the stadium experience was the “Redneck Night” promotion, which included a real wedding. Minor League Baseball, Ladies and Gentlemen.

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Sunday
Out of the 21 states that I have been to, West Virginia has debunked misguided stereotypes and been the friendliest. Countless nice strangers throughout have engaged me in conversation, which continued today. I got up early to walk around downtown Charleston, including an exterior tour of the Charleston Civic Center (home to the state’s high school basketball tournament). Then it was on to Beckley, about an hour away. The radio was pointed to SiriusFC, where the mighty Leyton Orient (America’s Team) was trying to win their League One playoff for a promotion to the Championship and went up 2-0. I dejectedly found they lost the lead and the game in penalty kicks, the only disappointment of the day.

In Beckley, we started at the Exhibition Coal Mine, which taught me never to complain about my job again. The work of a coal miner is unbelievably hard and it is tough to comprehend how much harder (and more dangerous) it was decades ago. This area is coal country and the museum took us into a coal mine with an informative and quick-witted former miner. Along with a small museum, the grounds include a replica company town, as the employers of the company essentially had their own little village (even with their own currency).

The weather remained gorgeous and we stopped at an old-school drive thru at King Tut’s, where we picked up a cheap but very good lunch and brought it with us to Grandview, part of the New River National Park. Here, we were greeted with an amazingly lush spread of tree-covered mountains and the New River passing by below, with rapids and rafters. We hiked a little trail and took in the beautiful views along the way. The night was capped at the over-hyped, but still decent Tamarack. While shopping for West Virginian goods is the main feature, there is also a theatre with a great range of musician displays. There is also a cafeteria that is anything but what thoughts are evoked when hearing ‘cafeteria’. It is run by the Greenbrier Resort and the food is amazing. I had rainbow trout and a sweet and sour slaw that was delicious. Sports-wise, we’ll finish up by watching the entertaining NYR-Montreal series (Game 4) and then a new ballpark is on the schedule for tomorrow evening in Lynchburg, VA.
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Monday
We had three options for a morning stop on our way from Beckley, WV to Lynchburg, VA…Lost World Caverns, The Greenbrier or Natural Bridge. It was likely the lesser of the three that we took, based mostly on the amount of time we had, so we saw the Caverns, just on the outskirts of beautiful Lewisburg, WV. The self-guided cave tour was pretty neat with some cool sights, though it was not as staggering as the one we saw near San Antonio, TX. We made our way back to I-64 and then traversed the Blue Ridge Mountains on some winding roads (glad it was daylight) before arriving onto US-29 and into Lynchburg.

The City of Seven Hills is quite charming and we found the same hospitality as in West Virginia. Only a month removed from the too-close-for-comfort train derailment and explosion, we were down near the river for lunch at the Depot Grille. It’s a great spot with the railroad tracks also there, just too bad the brush obstruct the view of the water. The aptly nicknamed city includes a very hilly downtown and we sweated our away to the top of Monument Terrace for a climb up 130 stairs that had many stops for statues and war memorials. At the top is the old courthouse, turned Lynchburg Museum. It’s the type that I love with a thorough display of the history in this city, along with various artifacts. It also included an informative volunteer who loved to share his knowledge (as evidenced by the 25 minute conversation he had with a stranger that called in to check the hours of the museum. What a nice man). Loved this museum and great downtown, which included historical markers.

Then it was on to City Stadium, a traditional park south of the city. It was a 5:00 start and the huge overhang was helpful on this 86 degree sunny day. The game was a continuation of Saturday’s dud, as the home Hillcats got down 4-0. However, out of nowhere, Lynchburg tied it in the 4th inning. Winston-Salem pushed ahead 6-4 and then Lynchburg rallied in the ninth with a walk-off, three run double! A very exciting finish and I need to dig into the archives when I get home to find the last walk-off comeback. The park was significantly renovated in 2005, which turned this classic design into a more modern one, especially with the suites on top of the roof. There was a mix of likes and dislikes for me, which I’ll explore when I get to the detailed reviews in the next week or two. Also, Stadium Journey reviews will be done as well. It was nice to visit both ballparks the last few days and regardless of my preference, I’m always happy not to see a 1990s cookie-cutter design. Tomorrow, we’ll stop at Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park before heading home. Thanks to the Power and Hillcats!

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