Some of the bigger lessons I have learned this past summer are tied directly to just how much emotion, passion and comparison that is involved in the VBL. On different occasions in many a different conversations I have found myself defending numerous people and ideas.
When the topic is sponsors/ bottom line profit, I am the first to defend the efforts of Kay & Boyd Snyder of the Staunton Braves. I hear a great deal of "it must be nice to have that many sponsors/ it must be nice to have that much money coming in, etc... My answer to this is always the same- It is UN-believable how hard Kay has to work her town and the local shop owners to keep her operation where it needs to be. It's not like people drive by her park and toss big bags of money at the gate. Sometimes it is easier to try and dis-credit success than it is to try and duplicate it...
When it came to the topic of how many Loopsters would cross the finish line I heard more than a few times someone say- Well, of course Teresa and Bob (Harrisonburg) had the highest number because they had the shortest distance for their fans to drive. Again- Why not applaud the efforts and check and see some of the fun they had versus just trying to take away from anothers success?
I spent a fair amount of my summer trying to spread the word that the VBL team ownership group were full of hard working everyday folks. There was a story behind each group and when I would spend time in their parks with them, I would always leave feeling like I had a better understanding of that organization.
I tended to give the benefit of doubt and was quick to defend 10 of the 11 teams on a regular basis. Now it might be time to defend the 11TH... The Luray Wranglers...
Why not defend the Wranglers as the summer went on? It is always easier to defend others than it is to defend yourself. On many occasion I have thanked Bill & Joni Turner for the opportunity to own a fraction of their families ball club. There were two reasons for this and the first one is simple- Doesn't everyone who played the game think they want to own part of a team. Look at the list of great that went from playing at a Hall of Fame Level to owning part of a minor league team (Cal Ripken and Nolan Ryan).
The second reason was I wanted to get to see the behind the camera version of the Valley Baseball League. I wanted to sit in the owners meetings and try and further my knowledge of what all goes into the makings of a Summer season. As I ponder the future connection that I have with the VBL- one thing I know for sure is it- IT WILL NOT INVOLVE OWNERSHIP!
As kind as Bill was to let me in, he was just as kind to let me out. I thought owning a small part of the local nine would be, well, kinda fun. Incorrect answer, at least for me. Every move or decision you make has actions and reactions to it. I need to leave that kind of thinking to people more suited for it. With that said, let's get back to the subject of winning.
When I first became involved in the VBL I thought it was a developmental league of sorts. The place where you send your #4 starter to get more work or maybe your #2 starter to recover from surgery. The short stop that needs a chance to play more than he did during the school year. Once again- I quickly learned that was not the case!
Each of the 11 teams are trying to win every night they take the field. Some are just more successful than others at it. The same way that I will be quick to point out that folks don't ride by Gypsy Hill Park and toss money out at the Braves and that the Turks still had to plan out their trips and drive their cars to the parks--- This just in- College coaches don't just load up their vans and drive to Bulldog Field and dump out the likes of Travis Smink, Ryan Schimpf and Jeff Jefferson. I know that I could of inserted Alex Wimmers, Rucinski and you get the point.
Bill Turner and Company have a population of roughly 5,000 (with modest incomes) to pull from and the next town in every direction has a team as well. The Wranglers best chance to be successful as a franchise is put the best possible team on the field all 44 games and then into the post season. The fact that it has worked for three years running (to be playing on the final day) is a testament to how hard the group works to assemble their team!
My job this season at Bulldog Field has been to try and entertain the folks from both the home side and the visitors side by talking my way through the night. I have had a number of people tell me I have succeeded but just as many confuse caring with arrogance. That is the same battle I feel the Wranglers face around the VBL- please don't mistake success with arrogance.
Our little town is smaller and the organization has to work a bit harder than most to make things work each summer. Five of the other 11 teams/organizations have at least twice the number of fans and businesses to pull from. Speaking of little towns, the support group that stands behind the New Market Rebels is simply amazing. I understand why Stu Richardson is trying so hard to move forward with VBL sponsorship as he too has a small area to pull from and has competition in almost every direction.
There is a number of things I would like to see the VBL do to become more fan friendly across the board but until that happens I would like to focus on what everybody does well in their own part of the league/Valley. For right now, it is time to give the Wrangler organization their day in the sun!
It is a long list of jobs/hats to deceide what to do with during the off-season but I've got one scratched off the list... Ownership-No fun, Being supportive of your home town team-Fun.
Thanks again to the Turner Family and Congrats to their organization!