Saturday, August 2, 2008
From the Desk of Greg Brill
Some news and notes on my travels around the Valley Baseball League
Written by Greg Brill
Earlier this season, Jerry Carter asked me to share some thoughts on my experiences with the Valley Baseball League. That request came again recently and I thought "Why not?"
I have had the good fortune to see many fine athletes in the Shenandoah Valley and report on their achievements over the last 27 years. I started out with the Northern Virginia Daily back in 1981 and currently write for the Winchester Star. The good folks I have worked for at both of these papers have allowed me to cover the VBL and see its growth over the years.
When I started out there were only six teams in the league, and one of them was the Madison Blue Jays. But when I say "started out" I need to backpedal a bit.
A family friend, Keith Lupton, was starting up a VBL team in Winchester. It was the fall of 1978 and Keith contacted my father about me getting involved as a scorekeeper. Back in my teenage years, I loved to play baseball and I loved to look at box scores. You couldn't always find them in the local paper, so you had to wait and pick up a copy of The Sporting News and check out how your favorite players did. Two of my favorites from the 70s were Gary Carter, who was a catcher for Montreal, and Joe Rudi, an outfielder for the three-time World Series champion Oakland A's. Whether those guys went 2-for-3, 2-for-4, or 0-for-4, I was interested. So when the Winchester Royals were born and took the field for the first time in the summer of 1979, I was there. That was also the first year for Bridgeforth Field (James Wood and Handley High Schools had already played the FIRST game there, won 1-0 by Handley in extras). The Royals first game was played at Kate Collins Field, on June 1, I believe, and the Generals beat the Royals 4-1.
During that first season, I got to ride along with the team on the bus to road games. Some of the trips got long, but it was still fun. Some of the guys befriended me, which was way cool for a high school kid. You just knew some of them would go on to bigger things. One of them was third baseman Jeff "Smoothie" Reynolds, who went on to play a few years in the Yankees system. One night, at Old Rebel Park, I got to warm up and throw with center fielder Joey Moffitt. I'll tell you this, the guy could make your hand hurt on long toss! Two months later, the Royals defeated Madison in the best of seven Lineweaver Cup Finals and Winchester was on its way to a string of five straight championships.
Back then, I was put in charge of relaying info to the local papers after we got back from road trips. Once I began writing, it actually took me a few years to get a chance to cover games. But over that span, I got to see Winchester put a nice run together to win the playoffs in 1987, getting a regular chance to cover a friend from childhood, Kevin Anderson, lead New Market to contention during his three-year stay with the Rebels in the mid 1990s, and seeing a former pitcher I covered often in high school, Jeff Hahn, play a major part in Winchester's championship season of 2001, won in five games in a very competitive series with the expansion Covington Lumber Jacks.
Now, many years after keeping a scorebook in a dusty dugout miles from Winchester, I have a different role. I just completed my third year on the Board of Directors for the Front Royal Cardinals. I have opportunities to see the day to day operations of a VBL team, close at hand.
Though we did not do so this summer, my wife Cathy and I had been host parents for four seasons (Well, three for me; Cathy got the jump in 2004, before we hooked up). We did not host this summer, largely because we were out of town a little more than usual. I have to admit to missing the interaction a little with our "Summer Sons." Cathy and I tried to do all sorts of activies with our players, from going to major league games to taking them out to eat (hey, you can't have the wife cooking at home all the time!). You develop long-lasting friendships, at least that's what you get with most of them.
A couple of the guys who have stayed with us are pitching in the minors. Derrick Lutz, who led the VBL in saves in'04, is at AA Chattanooga (Reds). Cathy and I got a chance to see Derrick on our way to Texas in mid June and he was tickled to see us both. We took him and his wife out to eat after the game. In fact, Derrick is about to become a poppa for the first time. We have had others fortunate to sign. Avy Rasowsky played in the Marlins system for three years, and we got a chance to see him last summer when his team payed a visit to Hagerstown. Avy is getting married this fall and Cathy and I will be there. There's also Trey Barham, pitching rookie ball out in the Great Northwest in the A's system (Just a little too far for us to make that trip). Anyway, those folks throughout the VBL that have hosted college players can relate to what I am saying.
It's a great experience that stays a lifetime with you! Last week I was at Rebel Park for their final home game and was moved by the pregame ceremony to honor third-year Rebs Dale Brannon and Kevin Deitrich. Team President Bruce Alger handled it all well, and in his dual-role as public address announcer, got to speak about two players that have meant a lot to New Market Nation. He closed by telling Dietrich and Brannon: "The final four words from the movie Hoosiers sums up how I feel, I love you guys."
People like Alger have been around the VBL for years and have helped this league grow. So has Jim Phillips, who has had some connection with Winchester since 1980 and helps bring in top-notch players most every year as the Royals GM. There's Mike Bocock, who has managed teams in Staunton, New Market, Covington, and now Luray. There's the large crowds at John Moxie Stadium. The loyal followings also at Waynesboro, New Market, and Winchester. There's Mo Weber. And there's the stadium, the last two years, that I have first been a PA guy at and now do the internet for Cardinals games, Bing Crosby Stadium.
The Valley Baseball League is rich in tradition and I believe it will continue to hold its place for scouts to find the next 5-star player.
I'd like to close by thanking Jerry Carter for what he has brought to this league. The Around the Valley in 60 days promotion has been a positive from its birth. Jerry is another one of those people behind the scenes that does not do this for attention. He does it for his love of the league and baseball.
Good job, JC!