I wanted to wait until Mike had sent me his recap on the Generals before closing the shop down. Mike has been a huge part of what we tried to do here this summer and we are grateful for all of his help!
To say that it has been quite a ride would be an under statement! A year is in the books from when I first approached VBL President Dave Biery with an idea that I thought would be fun for the teams and the fans of the league. The first ownership group meeting was held last Thursday down in Harrisonburg and this marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next for each of the now 12 clubs.
They can actually begin to sign players here in a few days (September 1ST) and work on securing their coaching staffs for the Summer of 2009. We still have a little UN-finished business as Daniel is hard at work on the remaining jackets but I don't think any of it qualifies as news worthy. I have been keeping up with John Leonard's daily work and still smile every time I notice Brad Ziegler have a good night in the bigs. Last night Ziegler notched his 5TH save in 5 attempts! You can follow John's work at http://allthingsvalleyleague.typepad.com/ .
We will also follow through with the 10 passes that were awarded as prizes for the 2009 VBL season. VBL Secretary Linda Keen is in charge of the passes and I know that she will make sure that each of the 10 winners end up with their pass by opening day of next season.
The VBL will have to 6 team leagues next season and will go in the books as a North and a South division. The North will consist of Haymarket, Fauquier, Winchester, Front Royal , Woodstock and Luray. The South will include New Market, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Staunton, Rockbridge and Covington.
The remainder of the details will be announced as they are voted on by the group. The next meeting will be in September and I would have to think that the remainder of the details will be hammered out then. As I had mentioned earlier, I have stepped away from the opportunity of owning a small share of our club here in Luray. I mention this here because this also removes me from the room when the teams get together so it will limit the information I would have in the future.
I will say that I have doubled the amount of respect I have for the efforts of our group here in Luray, if not tripled. The deck is somewhat stacked against Bill Turner and Company but they keep on moving forward in their efforts to field a quality VBL team here in our little town. I say "our" little town because at the end of the day, this is where I call home and where I make my living.
It has been my hopes for a few years now to find a way to give something back to the folks here in town. That is what led me to answer the ad in the Northern Virginia Daily three years ago. I don't consider myself a big time writer but I do think I can tell a story if there is one to be told. There was just one problem, the NVD doesn't cover events in Page County. I was confused at first because they sell the paper here (We delivered it for 8 months as well) but we are on the outer edge of their coverage area. I knew this was the case with the Daily News Record (Harrisonburg) but I didn't know about the NVD until later.
The two plus years of covering sports in Shenandoah County and Fredrick County was a great deal of fun and it led me to some special people. The list includes Suzanne Mathias (Strasburg Volleyball), Roger Wilkins (Woodstock) and Jeff Burner at Stonewall Jackson. You can't forget Bruce Alger of the New Market Rebels. I ended up spending time with Bruce because once again the NVD didn't cover Wrangler home games.
With the busy nights running up and down I-81 during the summer my number of nights spent at Bulldog Field were limited my first three summers here. It wasn't until late last season that I came over to handle a few web-casts down the stretch for Bill that I became more knowledgeable of our home town team. Once the Rebels didn't make the playoffs last season I was able to call each of the playoff games for the Wranglers. Of course the season ended with the Game 4 loss to Waynesboro at Bulldog Field but it was quite a ride while it lasted.
It was during game #1 of the finals down at Kate Collins that I first approached the "Commish" about the idea of Around The Valley in 60 Days. I spend my free time in search of ways to try and make my part of the world a better place.
I wish I had my oldest daughters dedication and drive that took her to the Amazon this past Summer as her group from Liberty University searched for lives to change. There is a proud parent, then there is my appreciation for the things Sabrena is trying to accomplish in life.
I don't openly talk about my own beliefs to folks but instead search for ways to give back. We have been blessed in life over the years and at the same time we have been fortunate enough to experience some things that others haven't. We had the makings of a perfect storm going with the idea as we could support the Wranglers, support the VBL and invite folks to our little town for a night at Bulldog Field.
The idea took off a little slow as most people were either too busy with their own day-to-day while others were trying to figure out what I was selling or what the angle was. I took the block (200 in our case) of free tickets that a sponsor gets from the Wranglers and went to driving all over the state in hopes of giving them away. The mission- get people excited about the VBL and then get them to come to our little town for a night to try and make some new friends.
Go out and meet folks that have a story to tell or a story that needs to be told. Just continue to search for the GOOD and side step all of the other. Maybe help a parent and child become closer over the summer or help someone get through a tough time. This site was never part of the plan but it became necessary when we couldn't get the newspapers across the VBL to help spread the word in the manner I had hoped.
As the summer went on I think the site became bigger than the promotion to most folks. This came as a pleasant surprise and I shifted to trying to search out the GOOD in folks and tell that part of the story. The people who gave so freely of their time and I didn't have to look very far as Donnie & Sue Middleton here in Luray are perfect examples of all that is right inside of the VBL!
Donnie turned 70 one night this summer and I only know this because I said Happy Birthday to him over the PA system down at Bulldog Field. How did Donnie and Sue celebrate the big day? Sue sold tickets at the front gate while Donnie worked the 50-50 during the game and then cleaned-up after the game. What an amazing couple...
But the VBL is far, far more of a business than I ever expected. I have been in Newspaper Circulation for 30 years now and it has taken me all over the country. The stops have included Seattle, Portland, Dallas and Jacksonville among others. I consider myself pretty skilled at what I do but there is little fun in the work. The hours are crummy and we work 365 days a year and it is very seldom that you speak to anyone except when something has went wrong. The national average for success that we are judged on in our business is 2 per 1,000.
That breaks down to if a customer gets a newspaper everyday at their house for 3 years (1,095 days) and they only have an issue twice then you are average! Could you imagine that figure translated to sports? The long hours and constant pressure of the job makes you want to find something FUN and relaxing to do with your spare time.
What is fun for me and makes the Valley Baseball League fun is New Market vs. Luray. Apologies to everyone else but Rebels-Wranglers is what makes the day for me. It is the Hatfields and McCoys in some fronts or good guys vs. bad guys in others. It is twice the fun for me because I have serious ties to both sides as I do business on both sides of the mountain as does Bill Turner and Mo Weber.
They (Bruce and Company) do a great number of things top of the charts on that side of the mountain, including Bruce himself doing the PA for his team. Mrs. Tacey Hawkins singing the National Anthem each night and they also have the best game day program in the VBL. I can honestly say that every night I handle the PA duties at Bulldog Field I am trying to measure up to Mr.Alger and when we (Rebecca & I) tackled the Wrangler programs this year we used the Rebels program as a starting point.
The games are fun because there is a genuine interest in the two towns to be better than the other one. Even if the players don't pick up on it each summer, the residents of the towns do. One of the loudest cheers I heard all season at Rebel Park was when Bruce announced the Wranglers were losing down at Waynesboro. The fans at both parks are great and when it comes time to cross the New Market Pass for the road game they cover the 12 miles of US-211 in a hurry.
It is the Wranglers vs. the Rebels and there is a cast of characters on both sides every night that the teams play each other. Melissa Dodge and her cow bell, Front Row Fred and the rest of the Rebels faithful. Tony Mowat and Dallas Alkire on the Web-Cast letting me have Bill come up on the broadcast for visits because it is all good stuff. If the league would let the two teams play every other night I would be there because it is just that special!
Now it is time to get back to the new format that the VBL is going to follow next season with the schedule. I have stayed away from having a position on things or using this site as a platform but this plan saddens me. Luray to the North and New Market and Harrisonburg to the South has the Wranglers getting just 1 home visit from both of these teams. There will be a more bonus game that each home team will pick up as a "rival " game but this creates a problem for the teams in the middle of the territory of the VBL.
Stu up in Woodstock will be losing his season series with his Shenandoah County rivals in New Market as well. The trophy the two teams compete for each season will not have the same meaning if it is a two game series will it? The number of leagues competing for the top level college players is continuing to rise with the 15 team Sierra League out West just one of the latest. The VBL doesn't just compete with the Cape Cod league for players and recognition but a wide variety of clusters of teams across the U.S.
This next few years are incredibly important to the overall health of the VBL and it is time to come up with a game plan. Most game plans include protecting your strentghs and focusing on your flaws. The new format doesn't hurt the teams to the North or the teams to the South, in fact in helps them. Rockbridge vs. Covington and Waynesboro vs. Staunton are classic match-ups that will now be played more often, Winchester vs. Front Royal and Haymarket vs. Fauquier both get more shots at adding to their fan bases. We are up against rising costs of travel for both fans and teams plus more and more teams competing for the same players so we need to be smarter than ever.
Earlier this morning I was sharing my thoughts (I want to add that these are MY thoughts and do not reflect anyone in the town or organization) with Bill Meade. Bill is the Sports Editor of the Page News and Courier and when I was done talking Bill said back- It is the natural place to draw the line. This is an answer that I have heard to often as of late and I replied back with this...
Let's take a look at the National Football League and asked ourselves what is the best rivalry in the league? The majority of the fans would say Cowboys- Redskins and that would include fans of other teams as well. So what would happen if the NFL Commish Roger Goodell pulls out the Rand McNally Atlas answer on Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Skins owner Daniel Snyder.
Fast forward to the conference call- "Dan, Jerry- I have some bad news for you two. After further review in the US Atlas we have noticed that while the Cowboys are in the NFC East on paper, we are going to replace you with the Clevland Browns. Kansas City is going to now play Dallas and Washington will play Clevland.
Now Daniel & Jerry are two of the wealthiest owners in all of professional sports and they would probably threaten to go out and start their own league but we all know that the NFL wouldn't make that type of error in judgement. The number of fans that buy season tickets to both clubs based on getting tics to the "BIG" game alone is pretty high. Indianapolis plays in the NFL South and Kansas City was left in the AFC West to protect the Chiefs-Raiders and Chiefs-Broncos.
Take a look closer to home when the ACC went from 9 teams to 12 teams for the benefit of the football revenue. They didn't take out a book and draw a line down the middle to split the league, they looked at what was best for the group as a whole. I couldn't be happier that the Rockbridge Rapids are in the VBL and now there is an even number of teams. It also creates three pockets of natural rivals.
The South would consist of Waynesboro, Staunton, Rockbridge and Covington. This group is both close in miles and natural rivals.
The second group (Central) is Harrisonburg, New Market, Luray and Woodstock. On a map and in their communities this is a solid four. New Market gets to keep both of their "Trophy" series in tact and Woodstock vs. Luray can continue to grow. The Turks would continue to play both the Rebels and the Wranglers.
The third group (North) of four is Winchester, Front Royal, Haymarket and Fauquier. Once again this group has a pair of natural rivals already in it and then some more than can grow.
The difference for me is that I am concerned with two things and two things only here. The first one is making the games for accessible for the fans of the teams to travel to road games and the ability of Bill Turner and Associates to be able to field a team here in Luray. As I said earlier, when the day is over the Wranglers play in my town and that makes Bill Turner my guy. He might wish otherwise at times because I hold him to a higher level of expectation, the same way a high school coach who has his own son playing for them.
Don't like the idea of a 4-4-4 on paper than it could easily be translated into a 6-6 with the same match-ups being protected. The VBL has operated on a different format for the past three seasons and I know they are anxious to get a schedule out there but I think it is more important to get it right then it is to get it out. I get behind ideas that I can believe in and it will be much harder for me to get excited about the 2009 season if it involves just 1 visit from New Market and 1 visit from Teresa and her Turks.
But that leads us back to the fact that this is a business that is being run here and it is not my money that is being spent to run it. I am not lost to this fact but at the same time I put myself in the shoes of that Redskins ticket holder who would have to make a decision on buying his season ticket package if it came without the Cowboys. Or to put into my Newspaper respective, I recently had a conversation with a long time and favorite customer of mine. He called to cancel his subscription to the Washington Post after 50+ years of reading it daily. The latest price increase was the deciding factor.
It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the paper anymore or couldn't afford the increase or that he thought the Post would changed their mind about the cost of the product for half of the state because of him. Mr. Poole told me not to take it personally and that my service had been great but he told me that a person has to do what they think is right...
Thank you so much to Generals Sign Guy Mike, Mrs. Teresa Wease, Sheli Rush and family, Buck and Jacob Smith, the Parker family of Haymarket, Melissa Dodge, John Galle of the Shenandoah Valley-Herald, Kip Ritenour of the Warren County Sentinel, Bill Meade and Greg Brill for making the Summer of 2008 one I will remember for a long, long time!
THANKS to Mr. John Leonard for the example he sets in life with both his site and his family...
Final THANKS to Bill Turner for continuing to fight the fight to have the VBL here in our special little town...