Lynchburg’s Falwell Passes Away

The Lynchburg Hillcats may have a tough time finding a spot in their ballpark to honor Calvin Falwell. That’s because there are few part of it available that don’t already pay homage to the team’s founder, who passed away on Saturday night at the age of 90 after suffering a heart attack on his way to a Hillcats game.

The stadium is named in his honor—Calvin Falwell Field at Lynchburg City Stadium—and Falwell’s name is displayed in center field and on the front of the building. He is honored in the stadium lobby as part of the city’s hall of fame and on another plaque in the garden area by the front gate.

“The best thing about it,” Lynchburg general manager Paul Sunwall says, “is that he got to see it all done while he was living.”

The recognition is certainly just for Falwell, who spearheaded the ownership group that brought the team to town in 1966 and worked hard to make sure it stuck around one of minor league baseball’s smallest markets.
Falwell attended all but a handful of Lynchburg’s home games this season and was a familiar face for fans in his suite. He remained team president until November 2009, passing on the duties vice president Rex Angel. Falwell ran the team’s monthly owners meetings until the past few years.

Sunwall, in his 32nd season with the Hillcats, says Falwell will be missed for more than his business acumen. “He will be missed for his presence and smile and southern hospitality. He was well liked and loved in the community.”

And it was in the community that Falwell embodied much of what minor league baseball strives to be. He opened Falwell Airport with his brother Lawrence in 1947 and worked on a number of community endeavors, including helping form the Lynchburg Little League in 1957, as well as being a regular contributor to the city’s Boys and Girls Clubs, Salvation Army and the local hospital.

“He was a very community-oriented guy,” Sunwall said. “He was very down to earth, very humble. He was never one to brag about his wealth.”

The Carolina League fell upon hard times in the 1970s as its enrollment dwindled to four teams. Falwell was one of the leaders in reviving the league.

“But for him and a few colleagues, we may not have had a league,” says John Hopkins, who has served as Carolina League president since 1984. “For me, personally, he was a beloved friend and a trusted confidante.”

Falwell was the Carolina League’s first representative on Minor League Baseball’s board of trustees and remained an officer in the league until 2010.

“He worked with four or five league presidents over the years,” Hopkins said. “There isn’t much he didn’t do.”