A View from Afar
John Leonard, 43, is a Pennsylvania native who moved to Harrisonburg in 1988. He is the undisputed No. 1 fan of the Valley League, according to many. He also lives in the African nation of Kenya. Leonard and his wife teach at the Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi. Leonard teaches ninth grade English, AP Literature and journalism at the Christian international school.
In November 2006, he started “All Things Valley League,” a website dedicated to one of the nation’s most prominent summer baseball leagues. Originally a typepad blog, Leonard’s wife asked him what he was going to do with all of the countless information on former and current league players he had compiled and studied. Having always enjoyed writing, including a stint as a freelance sports writer, he combined his love for journalism and America’s favorite pastime.
“I love the idea of any of those guys going on to play pro baseball,” said Leonard of the Valley League’s rich history of players who went pro, like World Series winner and former Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, who played for the Waynesboro Generals in the 1990s. “I’m not a scout, but it is so much fun to watch these guys and predict who might go on …There is a scouting element to it.”
Leonard also has a record book on the league since 2004, including info on the alumni in the minor leagues and major leagues.
“He is the undisputed number one fan,” said Generals coach Mike Bocock. “He gives such publicity to the kids. He is a great guy. Everything he does helps the league. It’s such a neat concept. I’m so glad he helps us out like that.”
A statistics nut, his duties include recaps and scores of games, features, awards and more, in addition to following the players closely.
“Last season I missed obviously the whole thing,” said Leonard, who was in Africa and has returned to Virginia for the summer. “It’s just box scores. I spend a lot of time with the box scores … I’m just combing through every day to see who is doing well. I also try to do power rankings.”
When the season is completed, he does a list of the top 10 hitters, pitchers and relievers.
Leonard and his wife departed for Africa in July of 2011. At that time, he discontinued the site, but a year later, finding himself still following the league closely, he started it back up on Facebook.
He and his wife adopted two girls from Kenya. The family will be returning to Africa July 27. He will be there for two more years with the school, returning in June of 2015.
“Well, it’s to be a part of something, really,” Leonard said of his love for the Valley League. “I feel like, even though I’m not affiliated with a team, that I’m still ‘involved’ in the league. I love the fact that these guys can go on to get drafted by a major league organization and maybe play in the majors. And make millions of dollars.”
Picking the champ
Of course, Leonard had to give a prediction for his favorite to win the league crown before departing for Africa at the end of the month
“Predictions are very dangerous,” he said with a laugh. “I think Harrisonburg is still probably the best team in the league, even though New Market caught them. The team that is sneaky is Charles Town. I think they have a lot of talent on that team. I’ve seen them play a couple times. I like what they have.”
As for the Waynesboro Generals and Staunton, he believes both teams have what it takes to earn the title.
“Absolutely. I think Staunton certainly,” he said. “Waynesboro I think needs some things to come together. All you have to do is get there. Best out of three [in the first two rounds of the players]? You always have a shot to win it.”
To check out his work, visit facebook.com/AllThingsValleyLeague.
Roger Gonzalez is a reporter with The News Virginian. You can follow him on Twitter at @RGonzalezTNV