Tuesday, July 8, 2008

More Valley League Memories by Gene Davis

A Few More Valley Baseball League Memories
Written by: Gene Davis



First, a few more thoughts about the Shenandoah Indians.

Two other players have come to mind, the Brookens twins, Tim and Tom. Tim played centerfield and Tom shortstop. They were almost identical in appearance, one could hardly tell one from the other from the stands. They were both hard-nosed players who played the game the way it should be played. This made them favorites with the Shenandoah fans. I don't know if Tim ever played professional baseball, but Tom was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and went on to 12 year major league career, most of them with the Tigers. Remember in those pre-internet days, it was very difficult to keep track of one's favorite players. The Sporting News devoted a small amount of space to the minor leagues, but there was very little coverage below the High A leagues, so often, there was no way to check a player's progress below that level. One side note, Joel Brookens, the outstanding relief pitcher at Front Royal during the 2007 season, was from the same area in Pennsylvania as Tom and Tim, but I was not able to find out if he was related. I would appreciate any information anyone might have on this.

Harrisonburg Turks

After the demise of the Shenandoah franchise, my loyalties turned to the Harrisonburg Turks. In those days, I remember the manager of the Turks was Brad Babcock. He was the head baseball coach at Madison College, which is now James Madison University. Babcock was a well respected baseball man and led the Dukes to their only appearance in the College World Series.

I saw my first triple play in Harrisonburg, the Turks shortstop mad a diving catch of a sinking liner behind second base and was able to catch the runners from first and second before they could return safely. I would not see another Valley League triple play until a few years ago in a Staunton-Covington game in Staunton. That night there were 2 triple plays. Staunton turned one when runners broke from first and second and a line drive was caught. A few innings later Covington turned a ground ball triple play.

Perhaps the best catch I ever saw was in Harrisonburg by centerfielder Todd Winterfelt (sp?). He made an over the shoulder catch at the fence to steal a home run, hit the fence at full speed, and after a few minutes on the ground, jogged back into the dugout and finished the game. He played collegiate baseball at Madison and was drafted by the Cubs. I don't think he ever made it to the majors, but I will always remember that catch.

Harrisonburg also had a unique scoreboard. I was manually operated and often had the same problem with too few zeros as occurred in Shenandoah late in low scoring games. (see earlier posting). The board was sponsored by Shenandoah's Pride Dairy and the outstanding feature was a batter who held a neon bat. When the Turks got a hit, the neon lights would flash to simulate a swinging bat. Another thing that stands out in Harrisonburg, was the lights were never turned on until the National Anthem. And when the phrase "rockets red glare" was sung, the lights went on.

The public address announcer was the late Arnold Felsher, a local radio personality. Arnold was perhaps best know locally as the moderator of the Candid Comment call in show, which is still aired Monday through Friday on WSVA in Harrisonburg. To the best of my recollection, it was Arnold who was given credit for coining the phase "The House of Thrills" to describe Memorial Stadium. I have noticed that phrase is still in use at Harrisonburg.

Another memory is that of Turks owner, Jim Lineweaver, a local insurance man, standing in the portals during every game. I don't ever remember seeing Mr. Lineweaver take a seat during any of the games I attended. Harrisonburg was also the only place in the league that I can recall that had vendors in the stands. The sold popcorn, hot dogs and drinks, just like in the big leagues.

Two other players come to mind from the Turks. Gene Richards, a left handed batter who could fly, and Orlando Gonzalez, a left hand hitting first basemen. Richards played in the majors, primarily with the San Diego Padres, and while Gonzalez did have major league experience, he seemed to bounce from one organization to the other, splitting time between AAA and the parent club. I remember Gonzalez for one game in particular. He had hit three home runs and in his next at bat, the opposing club tried to intentionally walk him. One of the pitches drifted over the plate and Orlando promptly smacked it over the short porch in right field for his fourth homer of the night.

A final thought that few fans may remember. Before Harrisonburg High School constructed a football field next to the existing Memorial Stadium, they played their games across the infield of the stadium.

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