07/29/2011 – Daily News Record
And Hoping Players Don’t Get Itchy Feet Written By Mark Selig Daily News Record
Harrisonburg – Bob Wease is confident he has the best team heading into the Valley Baseball League playoffs.
While he doesn’t anticipate any of his players leaving the team early – several did down the stretch last season – he is leery of the possibility, now that the league won’t begin its post-season until this weekend.
“I’ve had better luck this year,” Wease said about keeping his roster, intact, a common challenge for Valley teams when the season winds down and the beginning of a new college year looms. “That’s not saying next week things couldn’t change. I could go from the inhouse to the outhouse any night. So could anyone in the Valley League.”
While the Turks are locked into the top seed of the eight-team playoffs with a league-best 32-12 record, several teams aren’t scheduled to complete their schedules until today, due to rainouts earlier in the summer. Harrisonburg will play either Front Royal or Haymarket in the first round, but whether that matchup begins Saturday or Sunday depends on if the clustered South needs a one-game playoff to decide the division.
“The playoff picture is so screwy it’s unbelievable,” Wease said. “This is the worst situation we can be in with the Valley League playoffs … It looks like we’re not going to be able to start until Saturday or Sunday. This is awful.”
Harrisonburg ended its regular season Wednesday.
Last year, several Turks left the team early – a couple to sign pro contracts, others to take a break before college resumed. With many schools beginning classes by mid-to-late August, some players seek time off between the VBL season the the fall semester. Wease built his 2011 club by targeting fewer West Coast players than he did in the past, hoping that no one became too homesick to finish out the season.
So far, so good.
The only Turk to leave so far is cleanup hitter Mac Williamson, an outfielder from Wake Forest who injuured his left thumb in a game this week and traveled to North Carolina to get an X-Ray. Williamson could not be reached for comment, but told teammates that he might be able to return if his thumb is OK. Wease said Williamson could be back for the playoffs.
As for the healthy players, the lure of winning a championship might help the Turks remain whole.
“We’ve all talked about it,” left fielder Dodson McPherson said. “The fact that we’re 32-12 helps. Obviously, we’re a good team and we all get along. We’ve made it this far and we all get along and we want to see this through. It’s only a maximum of 11 more games.”
Chemistry might help too.
Starting pitcher Aaron Luchterhand, an Australian who will attend Arkansas Tech this year is spending his third straight summer in Harrisonburg and said the Turks are more tight-knit this season compared to last season. Hanging out with a few of them Thursday afternoon during an off-day, Luchterhand was confident everyone would stay in town to see the finish.
“Everyone is pretty much committed to sticking around,” Luchterhand said.
The first and second rounds of the playoffs are best-of-three series, while the championship has traditionally been best-of-five. That might change this year.
If there are any play-in games or rainouts that push the schedule back any further, the championship could be reduced to a best-of-three format, according to league president David Biery.
Either way, it will be a tight window for some players. While Luchterhand and McPherson (Wingate) don’t begin school until Aug. 23, center fielder Jay Gonzalez is support to be back at Auburn by August 14, with classes beginning on Aug. 17.
Gonzalez said he’s committed to sticking out the entire VBL season, even if it means potentially showing up at Auburn just a day before class.
“If it came down to it, I’d probably call my coach and talk to him and I wouldn’t leave my team on such short notice for the biggest game,” he said. “..I don’t want to leave my team with an unaccomplished goal.”
Asked to play commissioner for a moment, Gonzalez said he wouldn’t change the length of the 44-game regular season to prevent player departures. It’s a great experience, he said, even if it can be tiring.
“It’s the closest thing anyone’s going to get to a real minor-league setting – an everyday game type of thing,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a phenomenal thing. Plus I think it’s great to keep your body in a 45 game season heading back to college for a 55 game season.
Wease said he does not care who his team plays in the first round, and that he believes the true champion is decided by the team with the best regular season recorde because that reflects a larger sample size than a short playoff series.