Knights Of Summer
07/12/2008 – Daily News Record
Six Former Turner Ashby Players In Valley Written By Marcus Helton Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – Justin Miller and Justin Wood experienced plenty of baseball success together growing up, from their time in the Bridgewater Little League program to their achievements at Turner Ashby High School, where Miller was the catcher and Wood, the ace pitcher. All of that history makes playing against each other – despite having done it now in both college and the Valley Baseball League – tough to get used to. Miller and Wood will be seniors next year at Ohio State and James Madison, respectively. Miller is playing summer ball for the Luray Wranglers, while Wood is with the Harrisonburg Turks. "It’s really different," Wood said, "because you play side by side with these guys, and they do stuff, and you grow to expect it from them. But now when you’re on the other side of it, you expect it from them again, but at the same time you hope they don’t do it for the benefit of your team at that point in time." That doesn’t mean either player will hesitate to dish the dirt on their former teammate to any current ones that ask, however. "Yeah, that’s a little weird," Miller said with a laugh, "but when it all comes down to it, you want to win. … That’s part of baseball. You talk to your teammates: ‘Hey, this guys does this, this guy does that.’ You’re just tying to pick up any information you can to be successful." Miller and Wood are among six former Turner Ashby stars competing in the Valley League this summer. Harrisonburg also has infielder Daniel Heatwole (Hagerstown Community College) and catcher Josh Tutwiler (St. John’s), while Luray also has pitcher Andrew Armstrong (Ohio State) and infielder Josh Wright (Old Dominion). "They’re able to play in this league, and that’s good," said Luray manager Mike Bocock, who is Miller’s uncle and Armstrong’s stepfather. "There’s some good players in this league. That says a lot about the coaches and the talent level that TA puts out." The former Knights have found themselves on two separate ends of the Valley League spectrum. Heading into their Thursday matchup in Luray, the Wranglers were a Valley-best 21-8, while the Turks were 10-18. Overall, the teams have met four times this year, giving all of the TA graduates plenty of time to get reacquainted. Miller and Wood graduated in 2005, Heatwole in ’06, and Armstrong, Tutwiler and Wright in ’07. "I was teammates with them for basically my whole life," Heatwole said. "I came up through Little League with them, and seeing them in another uniform, it’s a little different, but it’s fun at the same time." This summer isn’t the first time Miller and Wood have been opponents. Miller played two seasons for Luray before rejoining the team last week following a stint in the Cape Cod League, while Wood is back after playing in the Alaskan Baseball League a year ago. The two also faced off in their sophomore year of college, when Ohio State and James Madison met in an early-season matchup. "As far as I’m concerned, it’s a lot different to know how to play against somebody like that," Wood said. "I played beside them for years and years, but playing against them really gives you a different look – it lets you see how they play from a different angle. It’s just exciting to be able to do it." Heatwole, Tutwiler, and Wright all redshirted in the spring, making this summer their first real taste of college competition. All three said that playing in the wooden-bat Rockingham County Baseball League as high schoolers helped them prepare for using wood bats in the VBL. Still, it’s been an adjustment "It’s been kind of tough," Wright said, "just because I haven’t seen live pitching and the college breaking balls and everything. I was still set on the high school stuff, kind of, besides our intra-squads down at [ODU]. I mean, I’ve started to get around lately, and started to feel a lot more comfortable at the plate." Miller’s seen plenty of college pitching – he led the Buckeyes in five different offensive categories last spring – and it has showed. In two games with Luray heading into Thursday, he was hitting .571 with two RBIs. Wright was batting .224 with four RBIs in 24 games, 18 of them starts. His fielding percentage while working at second and third base is .965. Armstrong was unbeaten on the mound at 3-0, and had struck out 18 batters while walking eight and posting a 3.63 ERA. For Harrisonburg, Tutwiler had started seven of the 14 games he has played, hitting .238 with one RBI while drawing six walks. Heatwole had played in 16 games with nine starts, and though he was hitting just .091 (3-for-33), he boasted a .944 fielding percentage while working at shortstop and second base. He was also third on the team with 31 assists. Wood was 2-1 with a 2.55 earned run average in 17 2/3 innings, striking out 17 while walking three. In addition to their baseball duties, the former Knights have found themselves serving as de facto tourist information centers for their teammates. "There was one guy that asked me how to get from his apartment to another kid’s apartment," Tutwiler said with a laugh. "They didn’t know the roads well enough, but they knew which complexes they were in. Certain things like that, and everybody seems to take a big interest in Reddish Knob and different little local things around here." While getting to know their other teammates has been nice, the group said, they agreed that getting to see each other on the field again has been among the highlights of the summer. "It’s a great atmosphere," Wright said. "You’re going up against your buddies that you played with all your life, and just knowing that win or lose, they’re still going to be your friends. So it’s kind of cool playing against them."