‘Cats Purring In Valley

6/29/05 – Daily News Record

New Home Rejuvenates Team Cats In The ‘Penthouse’ By AARON GRAY Daily News-Record HAYMARKET – Last season, the baseball team formerly known as the Loudoun Rangers had 25 fans in attendance for their Valley League debut. Fast-forward one year later. A new facility, a new name and a brand new roster with a sprinkling of local talent drew 500 fans for the June 4 season-opener at the team’s new home at Battlefield High School in Haymarket. "We’re calling this season our second annual inaugural season," said Pat Malone, general manager of the Haymarket Battle Cats, who moved from Middleburg in January. "We moved from the outhouse to the penthouse and we’re loving it." A roster loaded with Florida players a year ago – only three players from outside the Sunshine State were on the team – finished tied for last in the NCAA-sanctioned Valley League with a 15-28 record. So Malone, a native Virginian, has called on local talent this season to turn things around. Among the new additions are Ricky Reed and Jono Brooks from Bridgewater College. Reed, Brooks and the revamped Battle Cats (10-12) will visit Memorial Stadium to take on the Harrisonburg Turks (11-10) at 7:30 p.m. today. At first, the BC duo felt a little out of place in the Valley League, which is populated mostly by Division I standouts. Bridgewater plays at the lowest level of NCAA competition, Division III. "When we got here, I didn’t know what the competition would be like," Brooks said Tuesday. "The first game, we faced a guy throwing 95 miles per hour, so it’s definitely a step up from the college ball I’m used to." Brooks, a Milford native, has managed to adjust. The rising junior and All-Old Dominion Athletic Conference honorable-mention pick is second on the team with a .303 batting average and leads the Cats in hits (20) and total bases (23). Reed is 2-0 from the mound and went 3-for-5 with a double, two runs scored and an RBI when Haymarket downed the Turks 11-4 on June 7 at Memorial Stadium. "That was my best game of the season – I like playing there," said Reed, who grew up in Goode. "After hearing about what happened last year and how bad it was, I think we’re surprising some people." Focusing on in-state talent has been the biggest difference for the club this season, simply because a solid fan base quickly developed, Malone said. In addition to the two Bridgewater stars, the Battle Cats have six players from Virginia colleges on the roster. Florida schools have just one representative. "The players have reacted to the support," said Malone. "People at Haymarket are baseball fans. When you have people yelling for you at home, it makes a big difference and it could mean that extra run in a ballgame." Malone said the club has averaged between 250 and 300 fans this season and sports a 6-6 home record. A year ago, the team had to cancel three scheduled games because of improper maintenance and crawled to a 4-17 record at Mickie Gordon Memorial Park in Middleburg. "If nothing else, there’s been a great improvement in the attitudes of the players now that they have a nice facility to play at," VBL President Dave Biery said. "It’s amazing to me how well they’ve been playing because it’s like they’re an expansion team with the new management, new ownership and a new location." Turks manager Bob Wease is impressed with the improvements to the club’s facility. "Last year was the pits," Wease said. "They didn’t have any bathrooms and there was no seating in the dugouts. It’s much nicer now." Just like Reed, Wease is looking forward to the teams’ third meeting of the season tonight. The Battle Cats won the first two games. "Well, they must be doing something right," Wease said.