VMI Construction Puts VBL On Hold

8/31/2006 – Daily News Record

Daily News Record Written By Dustin Dopirak But a Warrenton team is ready to make the jump at any time. HARRISONBURG — If all it needed to expand were people to run its new teams, the Valley League would be all set to add two more franchises. Groups in Lexington and Warrenton are seeking admission to the NCAA-sanctioned summer baseball league, but there’s a major roadblock — literally. Jim Yates, who is heading a group that wants to put a VBL team in Lexington, said Wednesday that a construction project at Virginia Military Institute has put his plans on hold. That, in turn, has put the Valley League’s plans on hold. The reason? Without a southern team to balance a northern one, the VBL isn’t sure it wants to expand. Clearly, though, Lexington is a prime target for a franchise. Earlier this year, Yates said, he contacted VMI about using its baseball field for a Valley League team. The athletic department was interested, but VMI officials soon realized that they had other things to finish before they could host a VBL team. "Things were going real well," Yates, a Buena Vista resident and former Emory & Henry College baseball player, said. "We got a lot of support, a lot of interest. But then I think VMI got some funding from the state of Virginia for some construction." A lot of construction. VMI is building a new barracks and is also working on another school building. One of those will be built on Maiden Lane — not beside it, on it — permanently sealing off one of only two roads that lead from downtown Lexington to the northwest end of campus, where the baseball field is located. The only other road residents can take is the one that goes around VMI’s parade grounds. "We decided we didn’t want to have that much traffic on that one road for 20 or 30 games a year in the summer while we have all of this construction going on," VMI athletic director Donny White said. "… We told the Valley League we are interested for 2008, and if we can’t be ready by then, we’ll be interested in 2009 and so forth." Unfortunately for Yates, he can’t really take his team elsewhere. Though he said playing at Washington & Lee University would be ideal, the school’s field doesn’t have lights, an obvious necessity in a league that starts almost all of its games at 7:30 p.m. Buena Vista’s Parry McCluer High School doesn’t have lights on its field, either, and Rockbridge County High School’s field doesn’t have the facilities necessary for a Valley League stadium. So with a team in Lexington unlikely for at least another year, the Valley will have to wait to fulfill it’s eventual goal of adding one team in the South Division and one in the North. The North, meanwhile, isn’t a problem. The Fauquier Gators, a Warrenton-based squad that plays in the Northern Virginia-centered Clark Griffith Collegiate Baseball League, has been trying to move to the VBL for years. There is still a possibility the Valley could add the Gators — who, according to Woodstock River Bandits owner Stu Richardson, were chosen as an expansion candidate by the VBL ahead of two other Clark Griffith League teams that were interested. Valley League officials plan to meet on Sept. 21 to vote on expanding to 11 teams. "If I were a betting man, I’d say it’s not going to go through," said VBL commissioner Dave Biery. "I think it will probably be about 50-50 on whether to add one team, whereas, it if we were voting to expand to 12 teams, it would probably be 8-2." Biery gets a tie-breaking vote if the 10 owners on the board of directors tie. He said he doesn’t know where he’d side if a vote were held today. The problem with adding one team is scheduling. One team would have to be off every night, which would make it difficult for each team to play 44 regular-season games and still be finished with the regular season and three playoff series between June 1 and Aug. 15, the NCAA cutoff date for summer leagues. At least one official, however, doesn’t think that would be much of a problem. "I don’t have a problem with it at all," Richardson said. "You talk about scheduling, every team would only have to take a day off every 10 days. And I’m worried that Fauquier might not want to wait around for Lexington to be ready." Fauquier owner/president Cecil Campbell said his team had already been waiting and is willing to join the VBL whenever the league is ready to take it. The Clark Griffith Collegiate League also uses only college players, so the Gators wouldn’t have to adjust much administratively to join the league. "We’re always interested," Campbell said. "We just need someone to express some interest towards us." Campbell said he was surprised to hear that his team was still being considered because he hadn’t heard anything from the VBL in a year. As the southwest outpost of the Clark Griffith League, the Gators had long been hoping to move to the more geographically suitable Valley League. "We were under the impression that they had to have two teams come in," he said. "I haven’t had any contact with the Valley, but I would love to hear something." The Valley League is considered one of the best NCAA summer circuits, just a notch below the blue-chip Cape Cod League.