We've moved on to the third city in our Baseball Across the Commonwealth series, this time visiting the Shenandoah Valley town of Harrisonburg. Known as the Friendly City, Harrisonburg is home to roughly 50,000 citizens. With a rich history of local baseball and a vibrant craft beer scene, Harrisonburg is the perfect city for the next stop on our tour around Virginia.
If you missed the podcast featuring interviews with local experts, you can tune in here. If you're ready for some of my tips on how to spend your time in the Burg, read on.
Things to Do
Like Charlottesville, Harrisonburg is close to the mountains. Located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, the city is a short drive to either the Blue Ride Mountains to the east, or the Ridge and Valley Appalachians to the west. You can't go wrong either way, but let's dive a little deeper into what each side holds.
If you choose to head east on Route 33, you'll end up in Shenandoah National Park. With the famed Skyline Drive running north to south through the park, Shenandoah is home to more than 200,000 acres of wildlife. There are plenty of trails throughout the park, ranging from short kid-friendly hikes, to long challenging treks. Some of my personal favorites are Bearfence Mountain, Dark Hollow Falls and Rapidan Camp.
Taking 33 the other way towards West Virginia, you're presented with great options as well. You can park at the top of the mountain and take the 1.5 mile trail to High Knob, where you'll find an old fire tower and some fantastic panoramic views. Or you can head to Switzer Lake, a favorite spot of our podcast guest Dave Norman, for some kayaking or fishing.
Speaking of kayaking, if water activities are your thing, Massanutten Adventures offers kayaking, canoeing, rafting and tubing excursions down the Shenandoah River. Massanutten is also home to the only ski resort in Rockingham County, popular among winter sports enthusiasts. If you're visiting town during the cold months, you can head up the mountain to get your fix of skiing, snowboarding and tubing.
If you're into shopping, Downtown Harrisonburg has local stores that you'll love. The Agora Market is home to eight different vendors, and offers a variety of local goods that would make perfect gifts, or you might find something for yourself.
Food and Drink
After a long day of hiking and shopping, you'll need some refreshments. Luckily for you, Harrisonburg has no shortage of local watering holes. The craft beer scene in town has exploded over the past decade, and Harrisonburg is now home to five local breweries and one cidery.
If you listened to our podcast episode about Harrisonburg, you know we're big fans of Restless Moons Brewing and would highly recommend you check them out. But there's also Brothers Craft Brewing (try the Great Outdoors pale ale), Pale Fire (the Red Molly Irish Red is their best offering), Friendly Fermenter and Three Notch'd. Sage Bird Ciderworks opened up recently, offering Harrisonburg locals a variety of craft cider options.
If you venture outside of town, you've still got some great options. Cave Hill Farms Brewery in McGaheysville and Elkton Brewing in Elkton are both relatively new, but have some of the best selections in the area. Old Hill Cider in Timberville offers another option for fans of hard cider.
Of course, you can't go hungry in Harrisonburg either. Downtown has seen a renaissance recently, and part of that has been on the restaurant side. You have staples such as Jack Brown's and Billy Jack's, both of which offer a fantastic beer selection. If you choose to dine at Billy Jack's, try to Sticky Nuggs. Garlic herb and parmesan is the best flavor.
On the other side of Main Street from Billy Jack's is Jimmy Madison's. Offering up a Southern-inspired menu, Jimmy Madison's is great for any meal from brunch to dinner. Plus, they have an extensive whiskey list and can whip up a great Old Fashioned.
And no visit to Harrisonburg is complete without a trip to Kline's Dairy Bar. With locations downtown or on South Main Street, you're never too far from a Kline's. Make sure to check out the flavor calendar before you go, which can help you decide which one to visit on a given night.
Finally, the baseball. Harrisonburg has been home to multiple local baseball teams throughout its history, but the most enduring team is the Harrisonburg Turks. Founded in 1915, the Turks play in the Valley Baseball League. They have won 12 championships in their time, most recently in 2012. The Turks currently play their home games at Veteran's Memorial Park on the campus of JMU. If you're heading to a game, make sure to check the local paper to see if there's a coupon for free admission.
Also in the area is the Rockingham County Baseball League. Billing itself as the oldest amateur baseball league in the country, the RCBL was founded in 1924. The league consists of teams from Rockingham, Shenandoah and Augusta Counties. Each team's ballpark has its own personality and charm, and they are all worth experiencing. Perhaps the most popular is Buck Bowman Park, home of the Clover Hill Bucks. Known for its burgers, mint tea and the championship-winning Bucks, the field is a little slice of small town America.
With all of these tips in mind, you should be able to have a great time in the Friendly City. Don't forget to check the current operating policies at each restaurant, brewery and shop, and stay safe while visiting!
We're on to city number two in our journey to the baseball towns across Virginia. If you missed our weekend guide to Richmond, check it out here. If you're ready to head west to C'ville, keep reading for some expert recommendations on how to spend your time in Charlottesville, Virginia. (If you want the podcast version of our Charlottesville journey, check it out here.)
Things to Do
One of the most highly-recommended activities in the Charlottesville region is hiking. The city is just a 30-minute drive to the southern end of Shenandoah National Park, or the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway. If you want to pay $30 for a park pass, you can head into Shenandoah and take in all that it has to offer. The pass is good for the next seven days, so if you're staying in the area for a while, it's certainly worth it.
Shenandoah has some phenomenal hikes, including Bearfence Mountain, Old Rag, Whiteoak Canyon and Big Meadows. Make sure to hit at least one of these if you venture into the park.
If you decide to take the free route and head south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, you've still got some great options. Just about five miles into the drive, you'll come across the Humpback Rock area. This part of the parkway includes a visitor center, historic farm, picnic area and one of the most grueling hikes you can find in the region, but it's absolutely worth it.
The trail is roughly one mile, but climbs 700 feet in elevation in that short distance, making it a tough one to accomplish. Once you get to the top, though, you'll be glad you did.
If you're not so into the outdoor adventures, you can go with some of the more historic options. Thomas Jefferson's Monticello is just a 10-minute drive from downtown Charlottesville and offers tours of the third president's home and grounds. Not too far from Jefferson's dwelling is Ashlawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe. Both are great options for the history-lover in your group.
Depending on the season, head up to Carter Mountain in Charlottesville or nearby Chiles Orchard in Crozet and take your pick of apples, peaches, berries and whatever other fruits are in season. Make sure to stop in one of the Bold Rock taprooms for some refreshments after a hard day in the fields.
Charlottesville has no shortage of craft beer offerings. From Three Notch'd to South Street Brewing in the city, to the multitude of breweries within a 45-minute drive, you can't go wrong with any of the options.
Three Notch'd is one of the biggest craft breweries in Virginia, getting its start in Charlottesville and expanding to Richmond, Roanoke and Harrisonburg. Their offerings include Minute Man and 40 Mile IPAs, Hydraulion Red Ale and all kinds of seasonal and limited release brews. Make sure to include a stop in the Three Notch'd Craft Kitchen and Brewery in your trip to Charlottesville.
South Street Brewery also has some great offerings, including one of my favorite beers of all time, Satan's Pony Amber Ale. They've got a great location adjacent to the downtown mall, so it's an easy stop in for a beer.
If you really want to go big, I recommend booking a tour with Cville Hop on Tours. They have a few different tour options, and within each tour you can choose where you want to stop. Mariah and I went on one a few weeks ago, and we chose the 151 Tour. We stopped at Devil's Backbone, Bold Rock, Silverback Distillery and Blue Mountain Brewery. All of our stops were great, and being driven around by Cville Hop on Tours made our day much more enjoyable when we didn't have to worry about driving ourselves.
Of course, if you're more into wine, the region has some options for you, too. You can make your way to Jefferson, Veritas, King Family, Pippin Hill or Barboursville Vineyards nearby. Any of them would be a good choice for the wine-lover visiting town.
You didn't think we'd tell you about all the great things to do without including baseball did you? If you're visiting town during college baseball season, you can check out a game at the University of Virginia's Davenport Field. The Cavaliers have had plenty of success recently, reaching four College World Series since 2009 and winning the national championship in 2015.
If you're around during the summer, stop in at Cville Weekly Ballpark and take in a Tom Sox game. The Tom Sox are part of the Valley Baseball League, and host college players each summer in a 42-game season, competing against teams from up and down the Valley. The Valley League provides fun, inexpensive, family-friendly entertainment, so make sure to catch a game while you're in town.
Richmond, Virginia is a lively, exciting city, with plenty of activities for people with all interests. Whether you're an outdoors enthusiast, a craft beer or food lover, or a sports fanatic, there is something for you in Virginia's capital.
For our episode of Baseball Across the Commonwealth in Richmond, we spoke with Richmond Flying Squirrels play-by-play broadcast Trey Wilson, Center of the Universe Brewing founder Chris Ray and Richmond Tourism Director of Sports Relations J.C. Poma. Each guest provided us with some valuable insight on what makes Richmond such a great place to visit and how to make the most of your trip to the River City.
No matter what you're interests are, there is something for you to do on a weekend day in Richmond. If you have an adventurous spirit, maybe you want to start your day with a trip down the James River with Riverside Outfitters, as recommended by J.C. Or if you're not into the water scene, perhaps a hike will suffice. Check out Belle Isle, Forest Hill Park or anywhere along the James River Park System.
If you're more in the mood for a leisurely stroll, you could head over to Maymont, a large estate that was once home to James and Sallie Dooley, a wealthy couple who left their home to the city after their passing. Today, Maymont is home to the Dooley's mansion, Italian and Japanese Gardens, and a nature center. Trey recommends visiting Maymont on a nice day in Richmond.
If you're a big history buff, the options are endless. You could head to the aptly-named Museum District and check out the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and check out their signature exhibition, The Story of Virginia. Downtown, there's the American Civil War Museum, housed in the Tredegar Iron Works building. Venture a little further downtown and you'll come across the Canal Walk, featuring signage and landmarks along the way that will illustrate Richmond's industrial history and how the canals came to be.
Food and Drink
So you've spent your morning doing some activities, and you've worked up quite the appetite. No matter where you are in the city, you can find great food, but here are some of the recommendations from our resident experts.
If you're down near the Canal Walk or Civil War Museum, consider walking across the river on the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge. Enjoy the great views of downtown and historic quotes from the Civil War along the way. Once you reach the other side, head over the Legend Brewing (the oldest brewery in the city) for some great beer and equally as great food. Try the Brown Ale, or whatever seasonal beer is on tap at the time.
If you're further west of downtown, head over to the Scott's Addition neighborhood and go to Lunch. Yes, that's the name of the restaurant. Both Trey and J.C. recommended Lunch, which is known for its take on traditional Southern food.
After you've taken in a meal, you're ready to hit the breweries. While there are good breweries all across the city, the highest concentration of them is in Scott's Addition. If you had lunch at Lunch, you're right next to at least 10 different breweries. I would recommend checking out Ardent, The Veil and Bingo Beer Co. If you're a cider fan, you have Buskey and Blue Bee nearby.
If you want to venture outside of the city, you can head a few minutes north to Center of the Universe, which brews the official beer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. You can't go wrong with any of the options at their taproom.
Try heading east to check out Triple Crossing in Fulton Hill, or make a stop at the east coast facility of California-based Stone Brewing.
Take in a Game at The Diamond
It's been a full day so far, but you didn't think we were going to let you end it without a ballgame did you? End your night with a game at The Diamond, home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. The Squirrels are the AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.
The team is famous for the fun atmosphere at their games, with their slogan "Have FUNN, Go Nuts!" You'll be entertained in between each inning with on-field games and contest, and there is no shortage of good food. Plus, with the stadium being so close to Scott's Addition, there are plenty of beer options throughout the ballpark. And, as Trey pointed out to us on the podcast, there is a wine offering from nearby New Kent Winery, but be careful - one can of wine does not equal just one glass of wine.
So there you go, all of the activities you'll need to spend a weekend in Richmond, Virginia. Of course, make sure to check each museum, brewery and restaurant's websites or social media pages for their current COVID-19 operating policies, and stay safe and have fun visiting the state capital!
With the end of every World Series comes a new season - awards season. The Baseball Writers Association of America announced their finalists for the four major awards in Major League Baseball last night, and there are some surprises, some no-brainers, and at least one "Yikes" moment.
Rookies of the Year
The finalists for American League Rookie of the Year are Cristian Javier (P, Houston), Kyle Lewis (OF, Seattle) and Luis Robert (OF, Chicago White Sox). Robert was my pick at the beginning of the season, and after batting .233/.302/.436 with 11 home runs and 31 RBIs, it's no surprise he's a finalist for the award. Lewis and Javier each had fantastic seasons, though, so it'll be a tough one to decide.
The finalists on the National League side are Alec Bohm (3B, Philadelphia), Jake Cronenworth (2B, San Diego) and Devin Williams (P, Milwaukee). While all of these guys had great seasons, it's worth noting that Dodgers' pitcher Tony Gonsolin was left out. He was recently named Baseball America's Rookie of the Year, and he turned in a pretty good season. Gonsolin went 2-2 with a 2.31 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 46.1 innings pitched. I'm not sure how he got snubbed here, but the writers sure overlooked him.
Managers of the Year
The Manager of the Year finalist in the American League are Kevin Cash (Tampa Bay), Charlie Montoyo (Toronto) and Rick Renteria (Chicago White Sox). Cash took his team to the World Series and Motoyo took his team back to the postseason, so those make sense. Renteria is that yikes moment I told you about.
Like Montoyo, Renteria took his team back to the postseason, but the White Sox' drought was over a decade long. How did Chicago reward him? They fired him. And now he's up for an award, for being a good manager. Yikes.
The National League finalists are Don Mattingly (Miami), David Ross (Chicago Cubs) and Jayce Tingler (San Diego). Tingler and Ross each did well as first-year managers, leading their teams to the postseason. But Mattingly has to win this award. The Marlins hadn't been to the playoffs since 2003, and when you factor in their COVID-19 outbreak early in the season that almost shut them down, it's amazing that they even finished the season. If Mattingly doesn't win Manager of the Year, it's rigged.
The AL finalists for the award that honors the best pitcher are Shane Bieber (Cleveland), Hyun-Jin Ryu (Toronto) and Kenta Maeda (Minnesota). Bieber has long been the Cy Young frontrunner this year, posting an 8-1 record with a 1.63 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 77.1 innings pitched. Maeda and Ryu had good seasons, but it'll be hard to top Bieber.
Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati), Yu Darvish (Chicago Cubs) and Jacob deGrom (New York Mets) round out the NL finalists. Absolutely no surprise here. These three had the best seasons in the National League, and while it will probably be Bauer who takes home the hardware, I would be content with any of these pitchers winning the award.
The American League MVP finalists are Jose Abreu (Chicago White Sox), DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees) and Jose Ramirez (Cleveland). Notably, this will mark only the second time in Mike Trout's career that he doesn't finish first or second in MVP voting. Abreu and Ramirez had fantastic seasons, as did LeMahieu, but is it possible we're all just immune to how great Mike Trout is at this point?
The National League finalists are Mookie Betts (Los Angeles Dodgers), Freddie Freeman (Atlanta) and Manny Machado (San Diego). After all the talk about Fernando Tatis, Jr. being the MVP halfway through the season, he doesn't even show up in the top three. Don't get me wrong, I love watching Tatis play, but we just need to let the season play out before we jump to conclusions about who is the MVP.
I love seeing a Braves player on this list, and Freeman has a legitimate shot to win the MVP. He's already won the Player's Choice Player of the Year and Baseball America's Player of the Year, so it seems like he should be the obvious choice, which would make this Braves fan very happy.
With the 2020 Major League Baseball season over and the offseason getting rolling, I thought now would be a great time to take a look back at our predictions for this strange year in baseball.
Before the MLB season got underway, Trey and I made our predictions for who would win each division, the major awards and the World Series. We also predicted which teams would earn a Wild Card spot from each league, but this was before MLB decided to expand the playoffs to 16 teams, so we won't even bother taking a look at those predictions.
Before we start things off, let's go over the scoring to see who did better when it comes to predictions this year. Trey and I will receive one point for each division winner we pick correctly, two points for each league winner, and three points if we pick the World Series champion correctly.
Now, let's get started with the American League.
Trey and I had the same pick for the winner of the AL East, and we were both ultimately wrong. The Yankees looked strong at times throughout the season, but they couldn't stay consistent long enough to fend off the surging Tampa Bay Rays. Tampa Bay ultimately finished the season with a 40-20 record, best overall in the American League. The Yankees finished second in the division, so it wasn't a terrible pick, but not the right one.
Trey and I differed on the winner of the AL Central. He went with the offensive powerhouse Minnesota Twins, while I chose to throw my support behind the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox.
It looked like I might be right for a while, but the White Sox' poor play late in the season cost them their first-place position and they wound up in third place at the end of the season (but still earned a playoff spot, due to the absurd number of teams that made the postseason this year). The Twins did in fact win the division, so good job on this one Trey.
This might have been Trey's boldest prediction, but we all thought anything could happen going into the season, so why not go big? Trey chose the Los Angeles Angels to win the AL West, mostly because he thought Mike Trout would lead them there. He didn't, and the Angels finished in fourth place with a 26-34 record.
I, meanwhile, chose the Oakland Athletics to overtake the Houston Astros and win their first division title since 2013. Behind a strong bullpen and a powerful lineup, the A's did just that, finishing the season 36-24, seven games ahead of Houston.
We knew we couldn't go wrong with picking the Braves to win their third-straight division title, and they didn't disappoint us. Despite barely being able to put together a rotation this season, Atlanta won the NL East with a 35-25 record, four games ahead of the....Marlins? Yeah, 2020 was weird.
Another division where Trey and I differed on our predictions, and Trey ended up being right this time. The Cubs won the NL Central with a 34-26 record, finishing three games ahead of both the Cardinals and my pick, the Cincinnati Reds, who still earned a postseason berth thanks to the expanded playoffs.
You couldn't go wrong in the NL West this year. You'd have to try really hard to get this pick wrong. The Los Angeles Dodgers repeated again, winning their eighth-straight division title. The Padres challenged them at times, but ultimately LA ended up with a 43-17 record, best in baseball and six games ahead of San Diego.
Trey and I picked the same American League team to make it to the Fall Classic this year, and neither of us were right. We both thought the Yankees would finally get it done, but a very good Tampa Bay team knocked them out in the ALDS in five games. It was an entertaining series, but the Rays just ended up being the better team, and they would ultimately represent the AL in the World Series.
The NL is a different story. Trey picked the Atlanta Braves to make it to the World Series, and while I would have loved it had that actually happened, they were eliminated in the NLCS against the Dodgers. They took it to Game 7, but after being up 3-1 early in the series, they really should have been able to close it out, but that's another story.
I chose the Dodgers to not only make it to the World Series, but they were my predicted winner at the beginning of the season. I knew this Dodgers team was too good to keep failing in the postseason, and this was the year they finally got over the hump and brought a World Series championship back to LA.
After looking at all of our predictions and adding up the points, the final tally is:
Matt: 8 (three division winners, NL winner, WS Champion)
Trey: 4 (4 division winners)
Matthew Atkins, Journalist and Baseball fan.