06/12/2008 – Daily News Record
It’s Not Google.com, But VBL Has Fan Site Written By Matthew Stoss HARRISONBURG – After verbally cataloguing the extent of his baseball hobby, which includes a "man cave" with 37 minor league helmets, a bookshelf of literature on the sport and subscriptions to Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, John Leonard didn’t attempt to defend himself when asked if he was a baseball geek. "Yeah," he said, in a defeated tone. "I’m a baseball geek." In November 2006, Leonard – an English and journalism teacher at Eastern Mennonite High School – took that geekiness a step further: He created his own baseball blog. Leonard, who played baseball and basketball at Eastern Mennonite University, where he graduated in 1993, is a creator of "All Things Valley League" – a Web site dedicated to covering the Valley League. At allthingsvalleyleague.typepad.com, Leonard lists every night’s top performers and names a pitcher and player of the day. He also updates the progress of Valley League alumni by checking minor league baseball sites daily. It’s not exactly google.com — Leonard said he receives about 200 hits per day – but it has a niche audience. "It’s always been amazing to me," Valley League President Dave Biery said. "I just look at it and I imagine the time he spends covering the league and looking at stats. He looks at everything so closely; he’s even helped us with updating the statistics." Leonard, 38, estimated he spends an hour per day updating the site and sees two or three games per week. His most frequented parks are New Market’s Rebel Field and Harrisonburg’s Memorial Stadium because of the proximity to his Harrisonburg residence. Leonard, however, hasn’t been to all of the league’s venues. Still on his list are Covington (which will be crossed off after the All-Star Game on July 6), Fauquier, Haymarket, Waynesboro and Winchester. While he doesn’t get paid to do the site, Leonard hasn’t gone unnoticed. Kevin Warner, the VBL’s media relations director, gave Leonard an All-Valley ballot, which had been reserved for coaches, broadcasters and other media. "John follows the league as closely as any broadcaster or media member," Warner said. "He knows who’s good and who’s deserving. I just thought with the amount of coverage he gave the league, I thought he deserved the opportunity to vote." The blog (which costs Leonard only $50 a year for his subscription to TypePad) also earned Leonard another perk shared by coaches, broadcasters and media: free admission. "That was Bruce Alger’s doing," said Leonard of New Market’s president. "He made sure I got a pass, which really helps out. I don’t have to worry about dropping $5." If it were up to Bob Wease, though, Leonard would get compensated for his effort. Wease, the Harrisonburg Turks’ owner and manager, said he reads the blog "every other day." "We’re very fortunate to have someone of John’s caliber to do this," Wease said. "If John doesn’t get paid, he should get paid…. It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a way I can keep up with players who have been in the Valley League. I just don’t understand how he finds the time to do it." Leonard started attending Valley League games in 2004 after returning from a mission trip to Kenya, where he taught high school-level English at a missionary school in Nairobi. Before leaving for Africa in 1999, Leonard traversed the country, going to minor league baseball parks as a hobby. In Africa, however, Leonard and his wife, Glenda, adopted two young daughters, which made road trips to Salem, Lynchburg, Richmond and other minor league towns difficult. Instead of abandoning the baseball hobby, Leonard embraced the Valley League. "I like going to games and really enjoy watching these guys," Leonard said. "I was following their careers as they went and was spending a lot of time researching on-line anyway. … That was sort of the genesis of the idea." Leonard’s blog is such a novel concept that he knows of only one other site dedicated to college summer-league wooden-bat baseball: collegesummerball.blogspot.com. That site has advertisers – something Leonard’s blog doesn’t currently have. It is, though, something Leonard is willing to look into. "I don’t know where this is going to take me," Leonard said. "It’s definitely growing. It was not created to make money, but if I can add advertising or have something happen with that, I’ll have to talk to someone who has the expertise." As for the baseball part, it’s just part of being a geek. "It’s more than just a hobby to him," Biery said. "He’s got a love for the game of baseball."