Turks’ Texas Posse
Written By MARK SELIG
Daily News Record
HARRISONBURG — R.J. Perucki paused his Tiger Woods golf video game and answered the door to his Pheasant Run apartment, which he shares with three teammates. The Turks would board an air-conditioned bus headed to Charles Town about an hour later, and Perucki had some time to chill between an afternoon workout and Wednesday night’s road game against the Cannons.
Harrisonburg has become a summer home for Perucki, who was initially coerced into playing in a town 1,500 miles away from his real home.
“I got told I was coming here,” Perucki said, noting that Sherman Corbett, his former coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio, sent him to Harrisonburg to play for the Turks in the summer of 2011. “… Then I came here. [Turks manager Bob Wease] asked if I wanted to come back, I said yes, and then I kept coming back.”
Perucki is a rare third-year shortstop for the Valley Baseball League’s Turks, and this year he’s brought some UTSA friends who have helped Harrisonburg to a league-best 23-9 record.
First baseman Mike Warren (.316 batting average with a team-high 17 RBIs), outfielder John Welborn (team-high 11 stolen bases despite a .211 average) and pitcher Logan Onda (3.20 ERA in 19 2/3 innings) — all rooming with Perucki — have been key contributors to Wease’s club in the wood-bat league.
“All four have been a blessing to me, to be honest with you,” Wease said.
Perucki, Warren and Welborn all had hits in the Turks’ 6-4 win at Charles Town on Wednesday, and Onda pitched two scoreless innings of relief.
The quartet’s summer in Harrisonburg was delayed a bit when the Roadrunners won the Western Athletic Conference and reached the NCAA tournament. The Turks are 20-6 since the UTSA boys played their first game together on June 11.
Texas-San Antonio had suffered three straight losing seasons before the spring, when Perucki helped them go 35-25. The first-team All-WAC shortstop from Tomball, Texas, batted .350 with 12 home runs and 48 RBIs, playing in all 60 games.
“It was vast improvement,” said UTSA’s Jason Marshall, who spent 12 years as an assistant before his promotion to head coach last year. “R.J.’s always had potential to be a great player. I think this year he just settled in and became a force in our lineup. Just had a level of consistency — a reliable bat that always seemed to come up with big hits and big RBIs.”
Perucki, the best prospect at UTSA, was not drafted in June — to the surprise of Marshall, who figures that the 6-foot-1, 195-pound rising senior will need to improve his agility to impress scouts.
Warren and Welborn, both pretty much everyday starters for the Roadrunners, batted .318 and .250, respectively, while Onda had a 5.06 ERA in 27 relief appearances.
Each of those three players — who drove 22 hours together from San Antonio to Harrisonburg, with a stop in Nashville, Tenn. — is using his summer with the Turks to improve for next season, when UTSA will move to a new league, Conference USA.
“I developed a new pitch over the summer,” Onda, a rising junior, said of his sinker. “Well, I developed it over the spring, but I didn’t want to introduce it because I wasn’t too confident in it. I kind of felt that the summer was a good time to let it go, and it’s kind of helped me a lot.
Warren, a 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from San Antonio, is UTSA’s “emotional centerpiece,” according to Marshall. He wore a camouflage Spurs hat Wednesday, and passionately stumped for the NBA’s Western Conference champs when a reporter asked him about it. The big and zealous Warren, who has just one home run this summer, said he’s trying to become more of a prototypical cleanup batter.
“I’m huge, I weigh 220 pounds, I’m the strongest guy on the team, and I hit three home runs last season [for UTSA],” Warren said. “Played every single game and I hit three home runs on a field where every ball carries out. … I’m almost a slap-hitter at UTSA and I’m going to focus on being a big, first baseman-style hitter.”
For Welborn, who led the Northwoods League in Minnesota with 37 stolen bases last summer, his focus of improvement is mostly mental. The rising senior said he allows moments of failure to affect his play.
“When I start slumping or get out, I start changing stuff,” Welborn said. “This summer is kind of a time to just relax and go out and play and not worry about that stuff. I have a long way to go in that aspect.”
At least he has fewer travel headaches to worry about in the VBL.
In the Northwoods League, he said, teams rode an average of 2½ hours for away games and sometimes were on a bus for up to eight hours at a time. They stayed overnight at hotels and rarely had off days.
In the VBL, where teams play 44 regular-season games in roughly two months, the set-up of team locations is far more compact.
And the Turks’ living arrangements are quite cozy, too.
“We just get treated well,” Perucki said from a couch in his living room as a washing machine clanked in the background. “It’s a nice town; everybody knows who you are. Bob hooks us up like it’s nobody’s business. We play on the nicest field in the league; travel on good buses. Win all the time. I’ve been here three times and we win every year.
“… We have the best set-up anywhere. We don’t have to worry about host families. Literally everybody on our team, except for three guys, lives in these apartments. So all we have to do is walk three houses down and you’re in someone else’s living room.”
The UTSA guys all enjoy fishing, which they have ample time to do in the summer with only games at night to worry about.
Warren wakes up around 9 a.m., makes breakfast, and when the other Roadrunners arise from bed later in the morning, they’ve got a meal waiting for them.
“I’m the dad of the house,” said Warren, whom Perucki jokingly compared more to a grandfather.
Perucki, in reality, is the one who’s grandfathered into the Turks. He advocated the team to his college companions, telling them they’d enjoy and benefit from their summer in the Valley.
After helping Harrisonburg win the VBL pennant in 2011 and the league championship last year, Perucki is playing in what will be his final season with the Turks. He said he’s not performing as well as in the past, but is still posting a solid .281 average with a team-leading three home runs.
Next year, Wease will finally need to find a replacement for his middle-infield rock.