New Market The Valley’s Poster Child

7/19/04 – Daily News Record

By ANDY MENDLOWITZ Daily News-Record New Market is hot again. Not the town. Not even the baseball team, really. But the aura. The community-owned Valley League franchise nestled in a backdrop of mountains and battlefields has been anointed the idyllic poster child of the NCAA-sanctioned summer circuit. A column in the Richmond Times-Dispatch this month called New Market a "blessed landscape." Two recent articles in the Washington Post – syndicated nationwide — were even more fawning. One proclaimed Rebel Park among "the planet’s most breathtaking sports facilities" and said "the view out toward the outfield is ballplayer, wall, mountain, heaven." What’s next, a Kevin Costner movie? The appeal of the Valley League to city dwellers is obvious: it’s a piece of the sport’s romantic past. No contracts. No out-of-control egos. Just a tiny ballpark, a few hundred fans and a summer’s evening. "I think there’s more or less a little bit of an intimate feeling from the local town people as far as the ballgames go," said Fritz Orebaugh, 67, who has attended Rebels games since the 1940s. The Rebels are the only community-owned Valley League team, a sort of mini-Green Bay Packers. But while 111,057 people own stock in the NFL team, the Rebels are different. Really, no one owns the team, at least not tangibly. The town controls the ballpark. A self-perpetuating, six-member board of directors makes team decisions. And all profits go back into the franchise or Rebel Park, which also is used by Stonewall Jackson High School, Shenandoah Valley Academy and the expansion New Market Shockers of the Rockingham County Baseball League. Having no individual owner isn’t a new concept. New Market has had a baseball team since the late 1800s, and the Rebels became a charter member of the Valley League in 1923. The board of directors was formed at that time, and the arrangement has continued pretty much unchanged into the 21st century. Board approval is needed for any projects involving more than $1,000. Under that, general manager Bruce Alger can use his judgement. He also oversees the financial transactions, recruiting and hiring the head coach. Alger and his wife, Lynne, both of whom are on the board of directors, spend an average of a combined 70 hours a week with the Rebels – and they don’t get a cent. "We have the ballpark grass looking better than ours," Alger, in his third stint as GM, said with a laugh. "And we have to pay someone to do ours because we don’t have the time to do it." So why not contribute in smaller ways? To the Algers and others, it would be heresy not to put in the time. "I think if someone offered me money for what I do at Rebel Park, I think it would be an insult really because it’s not what I want," said Dave Beaver, the team’s official scorer. "It’s not what it’s about." For the volunteers, it’s a way of keeping New Market – a Civil War town – as charming today as it was 50 years ago. "We love our community and we want to make a positive contribution anyway we can," said Alger, the store manager of Advance Auto Parts in Harrisonburg. The Rebels aren’t a nickel-and-dime organization. The operating budget is between $75,000 and $80,000 a year. Financially, the team is thriving. It made an extra $2,000-$3,000 in profits just from the playoffs last year, and attendance is up modestly this summer, from 400 to 425 a game. So, what if somebody – say, a rich baseball fan looking for a hobby – offered to buy the Rebels? Alger can barely conceive of it happening, but when pressed, he suggested one scenario. "This is a community-owned team, so I guess the entire community would have to decide…" he said. "It’s a strange situation." The recent attention has sparked modest interest from fans statewide. Alger said he’s received about half a dozen e-mails from the Richmond area and about 12 from Northern Virginia since the newspaper articles appeared. Those weren’t the first publications to discover the Rebels, either. In 1997, Fodor’s "Ballpark Vacations" guide spoke of the field’s "stunning mountain view." While nationwide publicity is flattering, the team’s fan base is tiny: the 1,638 people in New Market. Many long-time residents attend games, people like Orebaugh who remembers crawling under the bleachers as a kid to fill his wagon with discarded pop bottles after games to return them for 2 cents each. "I’m kind of proud that a little town our size can field a team and compete with towns like Harrisonburg and Staunton and Winchester, some of the bigger towns," Orebaugh said. Any negatives in volunteering time? "Everything’s always been a plus for me," said Beaver, who has been involved with the Rebels since 1990. "I can’t think of too many negatives that’s been associated with it. If there’s a negative it’s that we can’t win the championship every year."