Sunday, June 8, 2008

The final touches from Winchester !

Sometimes you run into a story or a situation that you want to make sure you get it right. The other night when I visited the Royals I asked Brian to point me in the direction of a couple of great Valley Baseball human interest stories. He was quick to let me know that one of his biggest fans (Louie Sloan) was at a church function that night. I promised that I wouldn't forget to mention him and hoped I could see him next time.

#2.- Brian took me down an introduced me to a group of fans that sit together behind home plate for the home games each night. It started out as meeting the Keeler twins and grew as they the group scooted in to share their story. I was trying to write down the names as they talked and here are the ones:

Dickie Keeler and his wife Carolyn
Ron "The Face" Keeler and his wife Diane
Dawn Schaff
Kim & Lou Schroeder
Bill Diehr

Please ask Ron about the nickname if you stop by to say hello. He tried to take it back but once it is out there, its out there. The group was a pleasure to spend an inning of the game with and each one of them was willing to share a story or thought about how the group came to be.
We talked about a name to sum up the group and we decided on "The Fun Supporters" and I wanted to share some of the notes. Dawn has been attending the games at Winchester from the beginning (1979) and the group developed around her from there. Kim & Lou added they have been coming for about 9 or 10 years and told how easy it was to blend into the group.
They talked about Tom Miller and the need for him to wear a hard hat after a foul ball experience. The favorite night for the group is the home game that comes closest to the 4Th of July. The entire group smiled when talking about the celebration that includes fireworks and some years a concert.The entire community comes together for that night was the typical response from everyone.

"Even though Winchester is becoming a big city, it has the same familiar feel to it," Kim said.
"The thing that makes it special is that everyone welcomes you."

I don't want to tell all of the stories in case you get a chance to stop by and visit them when you are in Winchester but I do want to share a few more of them. It turns out Bill delivered the Washington Post back in the day for the retired Winchester distributor, Harold Orndorff. I mentioned to him that Harold is still in the trucking end of the business and his driver Troy brings us our papers during the week.

The way the group formed and bonded is what the Valley Baseball League is all about for me and I am thankful Brian introduced me to them and they welcomed me into the circle for my visit. I encourage anyone that has the time to share a smile and a few minutes to stop and say hello to them. The fact that two are twins makes them easier to find but they tell me they are always somewhere behind home plate.

How close has the group become- at the end of the season they get together to have an end of the year picnic to celebrate and recap the season. I am sure that almost every team has a group
like this one I will continue my search to find them.... Thanks again to all of you for the warm welcome!
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#1....... There are some stories that are just fun to tell and both the last one and this one fall in the category. Brian, whom I had never met before that night was a pleasant surprise and I will catch back up with them and do a story on his efforts for the club up there. The young man I spent a good part of the night with was Bobby McGrath III. Brian introduced me to Bobby as the game was about to get under way and we talked between innings and some times between pitches while he worked with his partner in crime, Vince DiBenedetto.

Bobby and Vince are in their second season together as official score keeper and scoreboard operator. The way the two went back and forth with each other you would of thought they had been together for a long time. The pair not only worked their jobs but kept Andy (PA) out of trouble and also managed to keep the atmosphere throughout the press box relaxed. The sun catches the press box at a certain angle during the early innings and when I asked how long does it take to not notice that Vince replied that he is still waiting for that day.

Bobby (23/single) and his family play a HUGE part of the day-to-day operations at Bridgeforth Field. After starting out as a bat boy he worked his way thru the park with stops at the souvenir stand, working with the sound for the park and now as the official scorer for the team. His Mom (Robyn) and younger sister (Kelly-16 years old) handle the souvenir shop while little brother Patrick (12) is in his third year as a Royal bat boy.

Bobby played baseball at Clarke County High School for the Eagles. He let me know that his head coach at CCHS was Coach Smith and that Smith was the 1st base coach that night for the Royals this season. While they were together at Clarke the team reached new heights for the first time in the school's history.(2003- Eagles won 11 straight & Regional Crown)

Baseball has always played a big part in his life and Bobby hopes to make a career out of it. After Clarke County he traveled down to Farmville to attend Longwood University. He just graduated with a degree in graphic design and hopes he will be able to eventually find a spot to do design work for a minor league or major league ball team in the near future. His love for the community runs as deep as his love for the game of baseball.

"I love baseball and when I am not here I am coaching my little league team (It is his 4Th season)," McGrath said. "This community has helped me grow as a person over the years and that is something I will never forget."

Bobby started coming to games back in 1994 and the baseball camps as well. He was able to get to know the players and the coaches which led to his becoming a bat boy for the organization.The number of roles he has this season go well beyond the task of "Official Score Keeper". He also helps with the field as well as teaching his younger brother the ways he can help the team when he wears the bat boy uniform.

"I explained to him when he needed to be out there on the field and when not to be," McGrath added. "I also try and teach him the little things he can do to help the team out when he is at the park."

I had two questions left for Bobby and I welcomed Vince to help him out with both of them. The first one was their favorite memory of a game at the park in Winchester and they both were quick to tell the story of the recent home opener where Paul Burnside tossed a no-hitter for Winchester.

The second one was this- As I journey thru the VBL I try to write about the unsung heroes and the behind the scene people around the league- did they have a story or a thought that helped represent that point. I talk about the owners, the volunteer staffs and the true blue fans that make it all possible and they teamed up to add to the list.

"The players and the fact there is no money changing hands," the duo noted. "They are here for one reason and one reason only, to become better baseball players. They give up their summers with their families and friends to come here with the hopes of ultimately getting noticed by a scout."

I thanked them both and added they helped me with my own answers to questions- people ask me what I hope to accomplish with my adventure. Now I can say all of those things about no money, giving of your summer with family and for people say like, Vince, he does all of that and then some and he's not looking or hoping for the Dodgers to notice him.
My love for the league is tied to the number of people (fans, owners, workers) are out here for the LOVE OF THE GAME!

Special thanks to Bobby, Brian & Vince as well as everyone else that made our Winchester visit a night to remember.....

3 comments:

Bobby said...

Hey,

Its Bobby, I just wanted to say that I not only enjoy the write up about me but also the write up about the league. I really enjoy reading about the other teams and special people behind it. I appreciate what you do. I also thought it was funny about what you put in about me not being so hard on the eyes, very funny. I hope to see you around the park so that we can chat some baseball up again.

From the Sponsors said...

Great to hear from you! I went to Haymarket tonight for stop #9 but checked in at the Bing on the way home. Todd Thompson and Jim sais they had no been to the sight yet so I am glad to hear from you. You were great to visit with and just to clerify the comment about you being good looking came from my daughter but I am guessing you figured that one out!
You are a great example of the people I am trying to spotlight- keep up the great work!

Bobby said...

haha yeah i know it was from your daughter. I had a quick idea for you. The MLB draft just happened and apparently over 70 players from the Valley League were picked up in the 2008 draft. Maybe you can highlight that because its pretty cool that when you come to the park, you are pretty much watching future major leaguers.