05/31/2008 – Daily News Record
Written By Brent Johnson Daily News Record Harrisonburg will open it’s 2008 season today at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium against Luray. Some of it’s top players, though, aren’t in town yet. HARRISONBURG – The nickname for the 2008 Harrisonburg Turks could be "The Big Ol’ Boys." That’s the phrase owner/coach Bob Wease uses to describe a number of this year’s power-prone players. Now, he just needs them all to get here. When the Turks host Luray today at 7:30 p.m. in the last season-opener at old Memorial Stadium, Wease will have only 14 or 15 players on his roster. That’s because the Valley League is a wooden-bat circuit for college players – meaning some soon-to-be Turks are still caught up in college playoffs. "We don’t have the ballclub we usually have to open the season," Wease said. "But I’m sure other teams are probably in the same situation." A few of the sluggers Wease expects to define this year’s team will arrive then, including one player the coach is "really excited" about. His name is David Mann, a 6-foot-6, 250-pounder who hit .376 with 13 home runs and 57 RBIs as a freshman this spring for Oklahoma City University. "He hits nothing but towering shots," Wease said of Mann, who helped OCU to a third-place finish in the NAIA World Series. "He’s going to be someone to really watch." Along with Mann comes a pair of Oklahoma City teammates who helped last year’s Turks go 28-18, finishing second in the VBL’s regular-season standings. Utility player B.J. Wheeler had a team-high six home runs for Harrisonburg last summer, while closer Garrett Parker carried a 0.00 ERA until the last game of the season, when Covington eliminated the Turks from the opening round of the playoffs. Last year’s team relied more on speed and pitching, while the offense lagged down the stretch, scoring only three runs the final three games. That might not be a problem this year. Take newcomer Wilsisky Baez, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound catcher who hit .435 with 22 home runs, 78 RBIs and 40 stolen bases this spring for Western Oklahoma State, which reached the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. Or Michael Precise, a 6-foot, 180-pound outfielder who belted 11 home runs and added 57 RBIs for Troy University this spring. He’ll start tonight in right field and bat third. "I think we’ll be middle of the pack, top half [of the league]," Wease said. "I think we’re going to have a good ballclub. … I think we’ll have a lot of power. And four or five guys who can run." VBL teams are usually short-handed the first few games of the season. And Wease knows he could lose a few more players to the Major League Baseball draft June 5. But Wease expects the Turks to be "fine" until their roster is finalized. It helps that his starting pitchers the first two games are returnees from last summer: Chase Sonen (St. Joseph’s College of Indiana) will toss tonight, and Tim Wheeler (Troy) will throw Sunday at Waynesboro. And tonight’s starting lineup will include two more Turk vets: third baseman Brett Stewart (Appalachian State), who had 21 RBIs last summer, and catcher Mike Pericht (St. Joseph’s of Indiana). "All teams are going through same thing this time of year," said Sonen, one of the handful of Turks who has been practicing in Harrisonburg the last week. "Any time you have a league with good talent, players are playing in the postseason. In a couple weeks, it will even out. You scrap together the wins you can." There’s also a strong local factor this season. Tonight’s starting shortstop is Daniel Heatwole, a former Turner Ashby High School star who played this spring for Hagerstown (Md.) Community College. He’s one of four former TA players on the Turks, along with pitcher Justin Wood (James Madison), catcher Josh Tutwiler (St. John’s) and infielder Alex Stover (Hagerstown). Wease hopes the quartet of Knights will help draw a larger crowd to Memorial Stadium, the white-concrete facility on High Street the Turks have called home since 1948. This will be the last summer to catch a game there. James Madison University is building a new $7 million complex on the site expected to be ready for 2009. "I’ve been playing there since I was 10 years old," said Wease, a former JMU and Rockingham County Baseball League player. "… I have a lot of memories, of course. But anything JMU does is better for the town and for the city. I’m really excited about it." And his "Big Ol’ Boys" could give the stadium quite a powerful sendoff.