Page 35 - Salem Magazine Spring 2014
P. 35

   Drafted as a first baseman by the Pirates, Wakefield soon converted to a pitcher, which had mixed results when he arrived in Salem in 1990.
Baseball in Salem
Outgrowing Municipal Field
 “The Pirates came to me and said, ‘We’re going to turn you into a knuckleball pitcher,’” said Wakefield, who won 200 career games with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox. “My year in Salem was my first full year as a pitcher. The only thing going through my mind at that point was that I still had a job. It was either convert to a pitcher or be released. I certainly didn’t like the latter of the two.”
Bowles and Lazzaro had two clear choices when the MLB stadium regulations were released at the end of 1990... either renovate Municipal Field or build a new stadium.
Wakefield, known for his friendly personality, was the go-to player when it came to the Buccaneers’ relationship with the Salem community.
Renovation was the first option considered. Features such as seating capacity, concession areas and restrooms would all have to be completely rebuilt. The light poles in the outfield would need to be removed and the walls would have to be moved further out onto 6th and Florida Streets.
“Tim was one of the best players to work with in terms of his cooperation with the front office. What an incredible guy. Any time we needed a player, he would bend over backwards, especially with kids,” Lazzaro said. “He was just learning the knuckleball when he came here. A lot of them ended up in the houses beyond the right field wall.”
“Even good teams didn’t have good pitching in our park because the fences were so short. Those routine fly balls to left center or right center field were into the houses in the neighborhood,” explained Lazzaro, who paid for every door and window whenever it was busted by a home run ball. “There were no nets there when I first started. A line drive would end up in somebody’s living room. It got to the point where I knew the neighbors on a first-name basis. They knew we would take care of them if something happened.”
The knuckleball, a pitch that features erratic movement due to no spin of the ball, was a challenge for Wakefield, who gave up 100 earned runs and 24 home runs in his 28 starts.
The Buccaneers had simply outgrown the landlocked Municipal Field. The team and the city did not want to spend the money to buy the houses beyond the outfield walls, build a new parking lot and move the streets. A new stadium had to be built or the team would be lost.
“What was I? 10-14 that season? That was a great year, right?” Wakefield said, laughing. “As long as you kept it in center field, you were OK. I remember the right field wall was very short and that didn’t help.”
At the time, Roanoke City Council member Mac McCadden had plans of his own to move the team to Roanoke from Salem due to the status of Municipal Field. This possibility didn’t set well with Salem Mayor Jim Taliaferro.
 Wakefield was among a handful of Buccaneer players who become Major League All-Stars including Carlos Garcia, Moises Alou, Tony Womack, Esteban Loaiza and Jason Kendall.
The wall distances Wakefield struggled with were not the only things that were falling short at Municipal Field. Following that 1990 season, Major League Baseball released a set of minimum regulations for every minor league ballpark. Bowles and the City of Salem were faced with a major dilemma.
“One morning I picked up the
paper and there’s an article in there that
McCadden was going to get a stadium built
in downtown Roanoke and had financial
backers that would purchase the Buccaneers
and move them to Roanoke City,” Lazzaro
said. “That morning, my phone rang at
home and it was Jim Taliaferro mad as a
hornet. ‘McCadden’s never going to get our ball club! I’ve got the council votes and we’re going to put that ballpark right behind the civic center!’ When he decided on something, it got done.”
Salem Mayor Jim Taliaferro made sure a new stadium would be built.
 Construction began on Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium at a site behind the Salem Civic Center in the summer of 1994.
“We were asked by the city to design a stadium and I didn’t know anything about baseball,” Shane said. “I went down to the Tides stadium and all I did was walk around the stadium. I noticed the people that would watch the game and the people that would congregate behind home plate having a good time for a nice evening. We scrapped our original idea and that led to the design of the opening when you enter the park.”
On July 25, 1994, Salem City Council unanimously voted to build a new 6,500-seat baseball stadium between the Salem Civic Center and Salem Stadium at a cost of $5 million.
The location was selected and planning began. Taliaferro formed a group with Vice Mayor Carl Tarpley, City Manager Randy Smith, Assistant City Manager Forest Jones, Architect Doc Shane and Carey Harveycutter, the Director of Civic Facilities, to research different minor league facilities in the region. They agreed on a design similar to Harbor Park, home to the Norfolk Tides Triple-A team. | SPRING 2014

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