Brian Hoffman Column – August 17th, 2017

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An insult to Salem’s finest

The old Billy Sample Field scoreboard, with letters peeling off, sits
above junkers used for the auto body class.

Football practice is being held on the fields behind Salem High School, and not far from where the Spartans practice is a scoreboard dedicated to one of Salem’s all-time best players;  Billy Sample.

Unfortunately, one of Salem’s all-time great athletes is not immortalized for his accomplishments on the football field, although Billy was a great receiver during the Eddie Joyce days of Andrew Lewis and played in the famous “Remember the Titans” game. As most of you know, Sample was also one of the best baseball players ever to come out of this valley. He played professional baseball, was a baseball commentator on TV and a member of the inaugural class of the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame. AND, the baseball field behind the high school was named in his honor.

I’m sure many of you didn’t realize the last honor, unless you noticed the decaying scoreboard with Billy’s name on it. It stands above junked automobiles ready for work in the SHS auto body class, in what used to be right field at “Billy Sample Field.”

At one time, Billy Sample Field was a great place for a ballgame. It was the home for Salem High baseball, with nice dugouts with running water and a beautiful infield. A brick pressbox, which still stands, sits behind the backstop and it was as good as any baseball field in the valley. Other than the sun setting right in the eyes of the leftfielder, it was a nice place to play.

Then Salem Memorial Ballpark was built. When that happened the local Carolina League team moved out of Salem Municipal Field. The old stadium was renamed “Kiwanis Field,” and the Salem High team began playing games there, abandoning Billy Sample Field. That was 22 years ago this summer.

In the past 22 years the field behind the school has been used mostly for lacrosse practice in the spring and middle school and recreation football practice in the fall. The pitchers’ mound has been leveled and grass has filled in the skin part of the infield. If you weren’t around 22 years ago it would be hard to recognize it as a baseball field.

The old first base dugout has a sign from better days that reads “Stay Off Dugout Roof.” By the looks of the roof that goes without saying.

Sadly, the scoreboard with Billy Sample’s name still stands above the junkers in what used to be rightfield. You can see the foul pole with “Salem” on it, right above a dumpster. The dugouts are still there but falling apart. The water fountains no longer provide a cold stream of water on a hot day. The pressbox is used as a storage shed.

It’s okay that the field isn’t used for baseball anymore, but couldn’t someone have taken down the “Billy Sample Field” scoreboard in the past 22 years? It’s an embarrassment and an insult to the person who is arguably the greatest athlete to come out of our city.

Maybe we can name another baseball field after Sample. I would say Kiwanis Field would be a good choice, but you really can’t change that name. The original Kiwanis Field was actually built by the Kiwanis on the site that is now Salem Memorial Ballpark and Haley Toyota Field. The original Kiwanis Field was leveled for the new stadium and Salem Municipal was renamed to honor the memory of old Kiwanis Field. If you would rename the old stadium for Sample I’m sure the Kiwanis would be upset, and I wouldn’t blame them.

Personally, I think it would be a terrific idea to name the four fields at the Moyer Complex after some of our Salem greats. The Botetourt Sports Complex has a field named after former Recreation Department head Ken Myers, and I thought that was a fitting tribute.

I would suggest two of the fields at Moyer be named after Billy Sample and Charlie Hammersley, our past recreation department director who did so much to get those fields built. Maybe we could have some kind of public input to name the other two, or maybe just leave them as they are and wait for someone else to come along and deserve the tribute. Certainly Sample and Hammersley would be worthy, and with all the traffic the complex gets their names would live forever among Salemites and visitors alike.

But first things first. Let’s get the scoreboard pulled down on the field behind the high school and raze those dugouts. It’s an embarrassment that can be fixed with little effort, and it’s well past time to do so.

The old baseball foul pole now signals foul odors from the dumpster beneath it.