by Gene Marrano
The Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame, which honors those that have made a significant contribution to the game locally, recently welcomed four new inductees. Among those honored were an ex-ballplayer who counted Manny Ramirez as a teammate at one point, and a former Salem minor leaguer who now runs a baseball training center there.
Mark Sweeney played at the University of Richmond after starring at William Byrd High School. At Richmond, future NFL and major leaguer outfielder Brian Jordan was a teammate. Signed by the Cleveland Indians after a tryout, Sweeney – now a lieutenant in the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department – was on the same minor league club as slugger Manny Ramirez. During his acceptance speech he recalled pitching against the likes of Chipper Jones (Atlanta Braves).
“I was overwhelmed,” said Sweeney about finding out he had been elected to the Hall, which sits in a small brick building adjacent to Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium. Sweeney’s pro career ended in 1993 when he had arm trouble.
Also inducted was Ron Shockley, who pitched at Virginia Tech after starring in American Legion ball while at Northside High School – which did not have its own team at the time. Shockley later coached multiple sports in Roanoke City middle schools before moving to Florida, where he has won district and state championships as a high school baseball coach. “I think coaching and teaching is what I was supposed to do,” said a tearful Shockley, who called baseball “the greatest game on the planet.”
Inductee Fred Corbett has been a mainstay as a coach and then president of the Cave Spring National Little League. Now a district administrator for Little League, Corbett, who also chairs the Roanoke County Parks and Recreation Commission advisory panel, extolled the slower pace of baseball, as he gave his acceptance speech.
The game allows for chatter on the bench and in the stands, building friendships, noted Corbett. He also said fans of Little League baseball or the game in general need to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, PA at least once. “You have to put that on your bucket list,” he advised.
The fourth inductee was Dave Christianson, who passed through Salem as a minor leaguer for the San Diego Padres 30 years ago. He came back when his playing days were over and began a career in sales with Shelor Chevrolet. Christianson also opened the Rip City baseball training academy in Salem, where he has helped thousands of young players along the way.
“I immediately thought of my dad. He spent thousands of hours… showing me how to love the game of baseball,” recalled Christianson. Being elected to the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame was like “going to heaven before I die,” said an emotional Christianson, who once smacked a 475-foot home run at Comiskey Park in Chicago during a high school playoff game.
The keynote speaker was Billy Sample, a former Andrew Lewis High School two-sport star in Salem (baseball and football). Sample, who as a football player took part in the “Remember the Titans” game at Victory Stadium, spent nine years in the major leagues and later became a game broadcaster. “This is full circle for me,” said Sample, part of the first Hall of Fame class 21 years ago. “Welcome to the new members,” added Sample, who lives in New Jersey and is trying to get his screenplay about minor league life turned into a movie. “We’ve really got an impressive group of people.”