Lights Out In VBL

10/04/2007 – Daily News Record

Daily News Record Written By Dustin Dopirak Lexington won’t join the Valley League next summer because W&L isn’t installing lights at its ballpark, after all. HARRISONBURG — Jim Crothers was so close to putting a Valley Baseball League team in Lexington that he gave his unborn squad a name and a Web site. But Crothers’ dream and the VBL’s plan of adding a 12th team will have to wait at least another year because the field the franchise hoped to use won’t have lights this summer. Crothers, who would have been president of the Rockbridge Rapids, said Wednesday that he and his ownership group this month withdrew a proposal to join the VBL because Washington & Lee University decided not to install lights at Captain Smith Field. “I’m disappointed,” said the 64-year-old Crothers, a retired insurance man who said he and his wife “split time” living in Lexington and Rising Sun, Md. “We’ve done 10 months’ worth of work and we were looking forward to having some baseball, but these things happen.” VBL officials and owners had the same feelings, because they were banking on adding a 12th team this season. The wooden-bat summer circuit for college players had been hearing requests from Major League Baseball, which helps fund the VBL, to add more teams so scouts could watch more players in a concentrated area. “I am disappointed, because I was looking forward to having 12 teams and maybe going back to balanced divisions,” Valley League President Dave Biery said. “We would have had another team in the South. I was about 80 percent confident it was going to happen.” Last fall, the VBL voted to expand to 11 teams by adding the Fauquier Gators, a franchise that had been playing in the Clark Griffith League in Northern Virginia. Many of the owners who voted to play with 11 teams in the 2007 season did so under the assumption that the league would add a 12th team for 2008. Lexington would be a natural place for the VBL to expand, filling the gap between the Staunton Braves and Covington Lumberjacks. “I wouldn’t have voted for the 11th team to come in if we didn’t know we were going to get a 12th,” Harrisonburg Turks owner/manager Bob Wease said. “It really screws up the schedule. Every night we play, one team’s going to be off. I like it when it’s even.” Said Luray Wranglers owner Bill Turner: “There’s no way that would have passed knowing there wouldn’t be a 12th team.” But Crothers’ hands were tied, and to a certain extent, so were Washington & Lee’s. The school had received a large gift from a donor, athletic director Jan Hathorn said, which was to be used specifically for putting lights on Captain Smith Field, W&L’s baseball facility. The school believed the gift was large enough by itself to pay for lights, but when it received estimates from contractors, it learned that the cost was well beyond the budget. “The costs of the lights came in at a price to Washington & Lee that it caused us to take a serious look at whether we could do this right now,” Hathorn said. “We decided we couldn’t.” Hathorn said she did not know the amount of the gift or the cost of the lights. She referred that question to W&L’s vice president for finance, Steve McAllister, who could not be reached for comment. Hathorn said the school would continue to pursue putting lights on the field, but wasn’t sure what the next step would be or how long it would take. By the summer of 2009, it’s possible that Crothers could take his team next door. Gray-Minor Stadium, a new ballpark at adjacent Virginia Military Institute, has lights and appears to be a good fit for the Valley League. VMI officials were interested in the idea of hosting a VBL franchise when approached last year, but decided against it because of major construction on the post. That construction will continue through at least the summer of 2008, athletic director Donny White said. VMI is building a $20 million leadership and ethics center on the only route that goes to the baseball stadium. It also is building a $50 million barracks, so the school doesn’t want to invite a lot of summer traffic through campus. If the construction is finished by 2009, White said, the school could be persuaded to host the VBL. “We have to take into consideration wear and tear,” he said, “but if we could make a nice profit by renting the stadium out, then we would consider it.” No other potential franchises have approached the Valley League, Biery said.