Wood Savors All-Star Role

7/8/2006 – Daily News Record

Daily News Record Written By Jeremy Cothran The VBL Showcase is Sunday at Memorial Stadium. WOODSTOCK — Justin Wood crouched in a catcher’s position at Central High School’s baseball field, threw down a few signs that battery mate Tim Wheeler mockingly shook off and then took some warm-up tosses – from a bright yellow softball. "You ready for my sick drop ball?" Wheeler asked Wood. "It’s coming." So is Wood – to Memorial Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Sunday as a Valley League all-star, one of six Harrisonburg Turks selected to the South team. For Wood, the chances of being named an all-star coming into the season were about as slim as him giving up baseball for fast-pitch softball. When the public-address announcer at Covington said last week that Wood had been selected, the James Madison University sophomore was a bit startled. "It just came right over the intercom," said Wood, sporting a pair of dark wraparound shades. "I wasn’t expecting that at all. It’s very nice." Like most players in the NCAA-sanctioned Valley League, Wood is using the summer to hone his skills, specifically to develop an out-of-the-strike-zone breaking-ball pitch. He already possesses a laser-guided fastball and a strike-happy curveball. "I wanted to come in and learn from the older guys," said Wood, who has a 2-1 record, 2.08 ERA, 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 26 innings. "They have more experience, play in big-time leagues and you want to just try and learn from them." JMU coach Spanky McFarland said he hopes Wood – a Turner Ashby High School graduate — can earn a starting spot in the Dukes’ rotation next year, especially after his performance this summer. "All these kids were starters in high school and they want to be starters in college," McFarland said. "But if he shows the kind of success next year that he has this summer, he’ll be penciled into the starting rotation." Turks manager Bob Wease, who will be the assistant coach for the Southern Division All-Stars, said that Wood’s inclusion to the elite group only speaks to his development. "He’s been one of our go-to guys this year," Wease said. "He’s a local kid, has a great fastball and I think he’s a pro-type player." In fact, Wease tagged the "potential pro," moniker on every one of the Turks’ All-Star selections. The prototype pro may be Bobby Spain of Oklahoma City University, who at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds possesses the physical gifts and tools that scouts crave. "He’s one of the better ballplayers in the whole league," Wease said. "He’s been drafted before. He’s just a great pro-type shortstop. And with his size, I can’t ask for anything better than that." Spain was drafted out of high school by the San Diego Padres in 2004, but declined to sign. With a .341 batting average, two home runs and 13 RBIs against good collegiate competition this summer, Spain certainly isn’t hurting his draft status. Neither is the switch from aluminum bats to the wooden variety. "I wanted to work on hitting with wood this summer," Spain said, taking a short break from swing drills. "If I want to go to the next level, I’ve obviously got to make that adjustment. I’m just trying to get more familiar with it." Other Turks selected include infielder David "Moose" Dennis of San Diego City College/Oklahoma City, starting pitcher Josh Dew of Troy, first baseman Clint Robinson of Troy and starting pitcher Matt Baugh of Arizona. Wease couldn’t help but smile when asked about Dennis’ inclusion. "He’s my kind of guy," said Wease, who gave Dennis his "Moose" nickname. "He’s just wonderful to be around. I wish I could have 25 David Dennises on my team." At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Dennis certainly provides the power in the Turks’ lineup. The slugger leads the team with a .345 average and 14 RBIs. He plans to transfer to Oklahoma City this fall. For Wood, Thursday was an evening to kick back in the bullpen – he was not starting – and joke around with the rest of the relievers. For someone who didn’t expect to be in this situation, why not enjoy it as much as possible? "I never thought about what it would be like," Wood said. "All I can do is have fun with it." The All-Star Game begins at 7:30 p.m, but will feature pre-game entertainment, including batting practice at 4 p.m., a home run derby at 5:30 p.m. and a 60-yard dash competition at 6 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under.