Turks Start Season Depleted

05/31/2006 – Daily News Record

But their owner/manager is still optimistic about the VBL season. Written By Mike Barber A week ago, Pat Freeman thought he would spend the summer fishing back home in Key West. Now, he could be the Harrisonburg Turks’ opening night starter. With his roster hard-hit after losing five players – including four pitchers – Turks owner/manager Bob Wease scrambled the last week to find replacements. "I think we’ve lost four and we replaced three," Wease said. "We’ll be OK. We’ll be a little shorthanded going into the season. We’ll have seven or eight pitchers starting out the season. The first three games, you should be able to get by with seven or eight pitchers, hopefully. Hopefully." One of those seven is Freeman, a rising junior who spent the last two years at Hillsborough Community College in Florida. "I was more than glad to come up," Freeman said Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium, minutes before the Turks’ first full-fledged practice. "It’s an opportunity for people to see me play." The NCAA-sanctioned Valley League is considered both a developmental league and a showcase for professional baseball scouts. Freeman, who tore a ligament in his throwing elbow the first game of his senior year of high school, missed his first season at Hillsborough after undergoing successful Tommy John surgery by noted surgeon James Andrews. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder said it took almost two years after the surgery before he regained full confidence in his arm, but he’s looking forward to throwing in the Valley League this summer. Freeman, who said he throws a 90-mph fastball and a 78-mph changeup and is working on a slider, jumped at the chance to pitch in the wood-bat VBL. By Tuesday evening, seven Turks had arrived in town, with three more expected later that night. For Friday night’s first game – a road date at Staunton – Wease anticipates 16 players will be available, including seven pitchers. He expects to have his starting shortstop, second baseman, catcher and right and left fielders. To field a nine-man team, though, he’ll still need to find some fill-ins. Former Harrisonburg High School player Nate Kline, now at Rider, could start at first. California shortstop Kyle Spraker could play at third. Wease will need another infielder to step back and fill that final outfield position, although he said he has another intriguing option for the spot. Wease said he’s talked to former HHS football and baseball star Patrick Ward, who will play football at James Madison next year, about coming out for the Turks. Ward could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Wease also approached JMU baseball coach Spanky McFarland to see if any of his players are looking for a summer opportunity. All in all, the Turks at practice Tuesday didn’t sound too concerned about winging it with a skeleton crew for the first few games. "That’s a big part of baseball, making adjustments like that," second baseman Gary Martoccio (Rollins) said. "I don’t think it will be too difficult. Once you get out here, you might not know any of the guys, but you’ll bond pretty quickly being out here on the field playing with them." And Wease, who said earlier that this year’s Turks’ team might be the best he’s had as a coach, is still feeling confident. He said the pitchers he does have – including Florida State’s Jimmy Marshall, who will join the team when the Seminoles’ NCAA tournament run ends – will more than hold their own, especially because he expects this year’s lineup to hit well. He still has to wait for the results of the Major League Baseball draft, which could claim some of the Turks’ top hitters, including Troy’s Clint Robinson and San Francisco’s Scott Cousins. After the trip to Staunton, Harrisonburg plays its home opener on Saturday against Covington, then plays at New Market on Sunday.