04/16/2009 – Daily News Record
With Early Starts This Season, Team Gets Saturday/Sunday Dates Written By Marcus Helton Daily News Record Sports Writer HARRISONBURG – When the 2009 Valley Baseball League season opens in two months, the Harrisonburg Turks will have an overhauled roster, a new – albeit temporary – home and an interesting schedule. The Turks will play their home games at 5 p.m. this year at James Madison University’s unlighted ballpark, and more than half of those 22 contests will take place on Saturdays and Sundays in an effort to boost attendance by avoiding weekday afternoon contests. Harrisonburg’s old home at Memorial Stadium was demolished to make room for JMU’s new baseball/softball facility, which will also house the Turks in 2010. The lack of lights at JMU’s current ballpark – Long Field – necessitated the 5 p.m. starts. VBL games normally start at 7:30 p.m. "I asked the league to help us out this year," Turks owner/manager Bob Wease said, "because you’re not going to get very many people there if you’re playing on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday at 5 o’clock, because people are just getting off of work. The league was nice enough to help us out." Of Harrisonburg’s 22 home games, 12 will be played on Saturdays and Sundays (six apiece), with the remaining 10 taking place on weeknights. Although starting games at 5 p.m. on weeknights might hurt the Turks at the gate, Wease said he thinks the weekend games will provide a boost. "I honestly think it’s going to help us out, I really do," he said. "Some people will go to church and they’ll come home and then maybe come out to the ballpark. I think it’ll be the same way on a Saturday." In another change this season, the Turks hope to alter the way they house players, which are drawn from college teams nationwide. In the past, the Turks sublet local apartments for players, but – thanks to the nation’s weak economy – Wease said he is looking to cut costs by having the players stay with host families, as other VBL franchises do. He said "seven or eight" families have confirmed their willingness to house players, and he is looking for about eight more. Three players return from the 2008 squad that went 20-27, losing to Luray in the first round of the VBL playoffs. Oklahoma City University junior pitcher Garrett Parker and Troy junior pitcher Tim Wheeler are back for their third tours with the Turks, while Oklahoma City junior David Mann is making his second trip. Parker was Harrisonburg’s best pitcher last year (3-4 with a 2.86 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 19 walks), and is 7-0 at OCU so far this spring. Wease said he feels catching will be a strength, with Florida State sophomore Parker Brunelle – who played in last year’s College World Series – University of Richmond junior Evan Stehle and Troy junior Steven Felix, who also plays outfield. The Turks won’t have the large contingent of local players they had a year ago, when former Turner Ashby High School stars Daniel Heatwole (Hagerstown Community College), Tyler Milstead (Ferrum), Josh Tutwiler (St. John’s) and Justin Wood (JMU) all suited up. Milstead – who joined the Turks in mid-July – is the only confirmed returnee, though Wease said Heatwole is a possibility. Overall, Wease said he feels the team should be solid if – and this is usually the big caveat in the VBL – his players report on time. He said he’s had most of his current roster in place since November, but anticipates losing a few. "I thought [last year] we had one of the best baseball teams that we’ve ever had," he said, "and the week before the season started, summer school and all kinds of problems arose and we lost like 14 players before the season even started. That was the reason we got off to that real slow start, but hopefully we’ll get all these boys in here this year and be ready to go." The Turks’ open the season at Luray on Friday, June 5. The home opener against New Market is at 5 p.m. the following day.