VBL Expansion Unlikely For 2007

8/29/2006 – Daily News Record

Daily News Record Written By Dustin Dopirak VBL On Hold Til ’08? The holdup, its commissioner says, is finding a franchise for the South Division. HARRISONBURG — Unless a team that fits geographically in the Valley League’s Southern Division pops up with a proposal by Sept. 21, the NCAA-sanctioned summer baseball circuit isn’t likely to expand for the 2007 season, commissioner Dave Biery said Monday. Biery confirmed that the league is hoping to expand, but said it likely won’t happen unless the VBL can add a team to both the North and South divisions. Though the proposals from the North are plentiful, he said, no group has offered to run a team in the South. The league will discuss expansion at its Sept. 21 meeting, Biery said, but if nothing develops, it will not be able to expand until the 2008 season at the earliest. "I would say right now that if I was a betting person, which I’m not, I would say there are very slim odds that there would be an expansion for the immediate season," Biery said. Biery said the wooden-bat circuit has been approached by three groups to field teams that would fit in the North Division, but he declined to names the groups involved or the towns they would represent. The need for expansion, Biery said, is bigger in the South, however, because of the 77-mile gap between the southern outpost of Covington and Staunton, the Lumberjacks’ nearest rival. "If we could get somebody between Covington and Staunton, that would be an ideal situation," Biery said. "Think about the travel. Covington’s nearest games are Waynesboro and Staunton, compared to New Market or Woodstock or Luray, where you’re kind of clustered." The commissioner said the ideal situation would be for a group in Lexington or Buena Vista to step forward with a proposal, bridging the gap between Staunton and Covington – something that almost happened in 2000. "In Rockbridge County, there was a group," Biery said. "But they ran into some difficulty, and the thing kind of fell apart." Biery said there is still interest in a VBL team in that area, but that the league would consider only sound proposals. "It wouldn’t just be somebody stepping up and saying, ‘Yeah, I want to run a Valley League team,’" he said. "It would have to be somebody that has lined up a playing facility and has the financial wherewithal. Especially the first few years, it’s tough financially to run a team." Possible locales for a northern team include Strasburg and Martinsburg, W.Va. While the Valley League could probably add a northern team for the 2007 season, that’s not likely to happen. The VBL’s board of directors, Biery said, do not want to add just one franchise because that would create an 11-team league, which would make scheduling a problem. Nevertheless, Harrisonburg Turks owner/manager Bob Wease said there was a push at last week’s Valley League meeting to add one team now because some feared the groups that had approached the VBL wouldn’t be available in a year. Those favoring immediate expansion suggested adding one franchise now and spending the next year looking for a southern team. Wease said the board split down the middle on the issue, and that he sided with those who did not want to take the interim step to 11 teams. Biery said the league also doesn’t want to add two northern teams and force one of them — or an existing North Division team — into the South. Travel occupies considerable time for the collegians who play in the league, with the longest bus trips lasting three hours, and the VBL has already shoehorned one northern squad — Woodstock — into the South. Each VBL team plays each of its division rivals eight times and each team outside its division twice, so Covington already has to make the 2-hour, 15-minute trek to Woodstock four times a season and vice versa. Biery said the league does not want to add more road trips of that length for Covington. "I don’t think the directors would approve that," Biery said. The VBL has been encouraged by Major League Baseball, which partially funds the league, to expand to 12 teams, Biery said. From pro baseball’s point of view, it is more cost- and time-effective to assign scouts to a compact league than send them up and down the East Coast.