11/08/2006 – The Shenandoah Valley – Herald
Written By Jeffrey Tomik, Staff Writer From the Valley Baseball League to raising the World Series MVP trophy — David Eckstein has come a long way, but it hasn’t come easily. "I had 20 shortstops that have been more talented than David, but he ranks at the top," said Bob Wease, Harrisonburg Turks owner and general manager for the past 17 years. "He’s one of the hardest-working kids I have ever seen. He just worked and worked." Eckstein played for the Turks three games in 1995 due to an injury and played the entire 1996 season for Harrisonburg. He batted .338 with 35 runs, six doubles, one home run, 19 RBIs, 25 walks and 30 stolen bases in 1996. At every level of play, Eckstein has had to work to prove himself. He was a walk-on at Florida University and bounced around the major leagues before finding a home with the St. Louis Cardinals. "It seems wherever he goes he has to prove himself," Wease said. Eckstein won his first World Series ring in 2002 with the Anahein Angels but was moved by the club in 2004 because the Angels thought they cuold get an upgrade at shortstop. He was part of a three-team swap of shortstops that send Edgar Renteria to Boston, Orlando Cabrera to the Angels and Eckstein to his current home with the Cardinals. Despite his size – 5 foot 7 inches and 165 pounds – he became the 2006 World Series MVP. "They say he’s 5 foot 7 but he is closer to 5 foot 6," Wease said. "He looks like a little kid on the field, but he just gets it done." Eckstein started off 0 for 11 in the 2006 World Series but finished strong, ending the series 8 for 22 with four RBIs and three runs in his MVP campaign. Wease remembers Eckstein as a dedicated player who would stay out of trouble and ask for the keys to the stadium to field ground balls. He was a "field rat," Wease said. "I remember he would leave the ballpark and get something to eat and go right to bed," Wease said. "He was always ready to play. He came here to play baseball and get better, and he did." Eckstein isn’t the only Valley League player who has gone from the Valley League to the World Series. Brandon Inge, the Detroit Tigers’ third baseman, played against Eckstein in the World Series and in the Valley League as a Waynesboro General in 1996. Three years ago Juan Pierre, a Turk in 1997, took the field for the 2003 World Series Champion Florida Marlins. "It shows the Valley League has some of the best players out there," said Kevin Warner, Valley League media relations director. "It just speaks volumes of the talent you can see in the league night in and night out." The consistent fielding, base stealing and sacrifice hitting demonstrated by Eckstein represents what the Valley League is all about. "In some respects these guys come from aluminum bats, and when they use wooden bats, they have to change their game and adjust their style and do the small things," Warner said. "Eckstein personifies that just about as well as you can." The Valley League is a summer wooden bat league sanctioned by the NCAA. The league has 11 teams from New Market, Luray, Haymarket, Winchester, Front Royal, Fauquier, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, Covington, Staunton and Woodstock. This year over 60 Valley League players were drafted into a Major League Baseball affiliation, according to Warner. "Year in and year out we’ve got guys from the Valley League that are playing in the majors and into the postseason," Warner said. "If you play in the league, scouts will see you, and you’ll play against good competition." Eckstein’s World Series MVP shows how competitive the Valley League has become but the shortstop’s personality impressed his former general manager as much as his play. "David is the kind of guy you would love to have as a son," Wease said. "It is an honor to know him and watch him work."