Along with Salem in the Northern Division will be the Delmarva Shorebirds (Baltimore affiliate), Fredericksburg Nationals (Washington) and Lynchburg Hillcats (Cleveland). The four-team Central Division is comprised of the Carolina Mudcats (Milwaukee), Down East Wood Ducks (Texas), Fayetteville Woodpeckers (Houston) and Kannapolis Cannon Ballers (Chicago White Sox). The Southern Division includes the Augusta GreenJackets (Atlanta), Charleston RiverDogs (Tampa Bay), Columbia Fireflies (Kansas City) and Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Chicago Cubs).
As the country slowly returns to normalcy after an unexpected roller coaster ride from twelve months of the effects, shutdowns and protocols brought on by COVID-19, baseball fans will be waiting anxiously for those magical two words they’ve missed.
Following the cancellation of the 2020 Minor League Baseball season last June, the Salem Red Sox were excited to announce the return of baseball to Salem Memorial Ballpark with the release of their 2021 schedule in mid-February.
“After the cancellation of last season, it is great to be able to announce a 2021 season schedule,” Salem General Manager Allen Lawrence said in a release. “While there is still plenty to be done, our staff looks forward to continuing to do what we do best-create a best-in-class fan experience , develop big-league players, grow our business and support our community.”
Long-time Sox fans will immediately notice a new look to the league, competition and scheduling format this season.
Following the restructuring initiative from Major League Baseball that changed the entire landscape of each big-league team’s farm system, the Salem Red Sox are now part of the Northern Division of the Low-A East league, which features a total of 12 teams divided into three divisions.
Salem’s 120-game schedule is evenly split with 60 home games set for Salem Memorial Ballpark, down from 140 games in previous Carolina League seasons. Due to an abbreviated schedule and travel restrictions, the Red Sox will only play 6 of the other 11 league teams during the 2021 season. Throughout the season, all 20 series, 10 home and 10 away. will be six games running Tuesday through Sunday. There will be a league-wide off day every Monday.
Familiarity will be a theme for fans of Salem’s home games. The 10 six-game series this season will include 3 against Route 460 rival Lynchburg, 3 against Fredericksburg, 2 versus Delmarva and one each against Myrtle Beach and Fayetteville. The Sox will play 9 of their 10-road series against Lynchburg, Fredericksburg and Delmarva (3 each), along with a single 6-game set against Kannapolis in late-July. Salem will not play five of the league’s teams during the 2021 campaign: Charleston, Augusta, Down East, Columbia or Carolina.
Salem will open on the road beginning May 4 in Delmarva before returning one week later for their home opening series against Lynchburg.
The Sox got a huge boost the first week of March when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Virginia will ease some COVID-19 restrictions regarding outdoor entertainment parks. The change means venues can operate at a capacity of 30% or 1,000 people, up from the previous guideline of 250. Additionally, if hospitalizations and infection rates continue to decline, the venues will be able to operate at 30% capacity with no cap in April. Considering Salem Memorial Ballpark seats 6,300, the 30% guideline would equate to 1,890 fans. Slightly less than the average attendance for the Sox in 2019 of just over 2,500, but certainly a huge move in the right direction for Minor League baseball in the Roanoke Valley.