In 1903, a mail train departing from Monroe, Virginia derailed 80 miles away in Danville.
This may not be something you know anything about. But, it was one of Virginia’s worst train crashes and is retold in the old country song, “The Wreck of the Old 97” that Johnny Cash once covered.
The derailment, the result of excessive speed and trying to keep the train and the mail on schedule, killed 11.
That pretty much sums up all I knew about Monroe. (And, to be fair, even that is mostly about Danville and when we get to Danville on this Virginia-Born Project, I’m sure you’ll hear about it again.)
That train wreck 80 miles away may be all anyone knows about Monroe, Virginia, because, if you set your GPS to Monroe, it will lead you off Business Route 29 and to an empty and desolate rail yard.
(You’re going to have imagine some train tracks running through a spooky, empty field. Editor/Husband told me to take a photo of the tracks. I said we didn’t need to bother because I was sure that we would find something better to show Monroe. I should listen more to Editor/Husband.)
When cities start to sprawl, the one-time little towns that were out on the edges start to dissolve or just get absorbed into a ghostly kind of suburbia. Who needs a grocery store when the big city, in this case Lynchburg, is just 10 minutes away?
We found railroad tracks, houses, churches, and a community center.
In case the GPS was lying, this sign is the only proof that we actually visited Monroe.
Monroe seems to be split today by Route 29, the four-lane highway that will take you south to Lynchburg in just a few minutes, or Charlottesville, about an hour north. Houses cluster on both sides of the highway.
Editor/Husband: “There’s a lot of Monroe, and there’s not a lot of Monroe.”
While an island filled with possums sounds delightful, this sign was just a cruel tease. We saw no possums or island on this road.
Monroe was also the birthplace of Ken Dixon, who was born there in 1960 and pitched for the Baltimore Orioles between 1984 and 1987.
Dixon’s career is sandwiched in that empty space between the Orioles World Series season (1983) and the season where I discovered the Orioles (1988).
Matt Taylor, who writes Roar from 34, one of the best Orioles blogs you’ll find, told me that Dixon was discovered by scout Dick Bowie who had been a truck driver for a Fredericksburg dairy, with a little amateur ball under his belt, before being offered an Orioles scouting position. (This “milk man to successful pro scout” story deserves its own post and should serve as inspiration to anyone seeking to try something new.)
Dixon’s career was rocky. A starting pitcher, he was a promising rookie with a wicked curveball. But, he quickly became known as “Dr. Longball” for being “erratic and home run prone” and “lacking concentration.”
His 85 home runs allowed over 105 career games with the Orioles puts him at 26th on the all-time O’s list. Only Miguel Gonzalez gave up more home runs (86) in fewer games (101).
Dixon was, The Washington Post observed in 1987, “alternately terrific and terrible.” His home runs to innings pitched ratio led the majors that year. But, he also had strong outings. At 26-28, his career wins to losses are pretty even-steven.
Dixon was shuffled to the bullpen in 1987 where he was openly unhappy. “A lot of people think if I talk about it that I’m complaining,” he told The Baltimore Sun. “I’m not complaining. It’s a desire to do a job I’ve been trained to do all my life. I know it’s misunderstood. A lot of things about me are misunderstood.”
To be fair, these were hard seasons for Baltimore. Following their 1983 World Series, they started a slide down the standings, finishing 4th in the AL East in 1984 and ’85, last in ’86, and 6th in ’87 (going 67-95.)
Dixon was traded to the Seattle Mariners in December 1987, where his shoulder finally gave out. He was released before Opening Day 1988 by the Mariners (who accused the Orioles of trading a player they knew was injured), had shoulder surgery, was re-signed by the Orioles, and then cut in 1989 for violating the club’s drug policy.
A comeback in the 1990s never panned out.
Today, Dixon lives in the Baltimore area, where he is active in Orioles alumni activities, and is a co-founder of the Diamond Dream Foundation, which provides baseball programs in Washington, DC.
I feel kind of bad about our trip through Monroe. It was late on a Saturday afternoon. We pulled off into the community center parking lot so Editor/Husband could deal with some phone calls.
It was a little strange that a “Community Center” had “No Trespassing” signs bolted to its walls. But, maybe that’s just the way life is now in Monroe.
Out behind a church I found this ball field.
Nothing fancy. But, there it is. I guess as long as it has a baseball diamond, Monroe is all right by me.
Photos: Monroe, Virginia, October 1, 2016 © The Baseball Bloggess
For more on The Virginia-Born Baseball Project visit here.