Daily News Record
Written By Paul Montana
HARRISONBURG – Wake Forest baseball coach Tom Walter is picky about which Valley League teams get his players.
“There are several teams, including a couple teams in that league, where we just won’t send players,” Walter said by phone Wednesday, citing “trust” issues.
The Harrisonburg Turks aren’t one of those teams – and the roster reflects it.
The Turks recruited four Demon Deacons this year, part of a 13-player haul from the Atlantic Coast Conference. In addition to the Wake Forest contingent, Harrisonburg will have four from Georgia Tech, four from Duke and one from Florida State – and it’s partly because coaches around the league trust Turks manager/owner Bob Wease to give their athletes playing time but not run them into the ground.
“They’ve all had opportunities [with the Turks], and they’ve also had a good experience while they were there,” said Georgia Tech assistant coach Tom Kinkelaar, who is in charge of finding summer leagues for the Yellow Jackets.
As you might expect, the ACC coaches talk, and word spreads quickly.
Summer-league players are overused “more often than you think,” said Walter, who played for Wease in the early 1990s.
“We [ACC coaches] are always talking about the best places to send our players – not only places where they’ll get developed and have good housing situations and things like that, but also places where, quite honestly, they’re not going to get abused,” Walter said, particularly noting pitchers who throw too many innings. “…Bob and I have had a great relationship and I trust him.”
That trust has helped Wease recruit a team whose talent rivals last year’s squad, which went 34-14 and was ranked as the No. 4 summer-league baseball team in the country last summer by one website.
Wease concentrated on the East Coast this year, as reflected by his 13 ACC players, the most he has ever had.
As recently as two years ago, Wease used connections to pluck players from the West Coast. But he had issues with players leaving early that year, and he said Wednesday that he’s also had problems with players from distant regions getting homesick.
“You could tell they were getting antsy to get home at the end of the season,” Wease said. “It’s just human nature.”
That’s not to say that this year’s team lacks geographic diversity. The Turks also have three players from Texas San-Antonio and at least one pitcher – and possibly two – from Auburn, among other schools.
Only two Turks this summer will have local ties: South Carolina-Aiken junior J.J. Loker of Elkton, who played for Harrisonburg last season, and William & Mary junior Brett Goodloe of Staunton.
Other standouts include Wingate junior infielder Brian Yeung, a second-team All-American in 2011 who hit 16 home runs this spring; Georgia Tech sophomore relief pitcher Alex Cruz, who leads the Yellow Jackets with a 1.67 ERA in 59 1/3 innings; Wake Forest sophomore pitcher Nate Jones, who has a 1.16 ERA in 31 innings; Auburn sophomore pitcher Dillon Ortman, who had a 2.28 ERA in 23 2/3 innings; and GT freshman infielder Thomas Smith, who hit .344 in 28 starts.
Wease also is going after Auburn freshman pitcher Daniel Koger, who Wease called “one of the best freshman left-handers in the country,” but Koger has yet to make a firm commitment to come to Harrisonburg.
In addition to Loker, other returning Turks include Texas-San Antonio sophomore infielder R.J. Perucki, a who hit .262 in the VBL last season, and Fordham junior pitcher Joe Charest, who posted a 2.84 ERA as a reliever for the Turks in 2011.
Wease said he doesn’t see a weakness in his team, both in the pitching staff and in the lineup. He noted that he could put together a lineup of just ACC players if he so desired.
Recruiting ACC players is a trend Wease said he hopes to continue. The only downside, he said, is that ACC squads might be too good – players who make the College World Series might not be available until July, and at that point, Wease said they may decide it’s not worth playing summer ball for just a few weeks.
Obviously, ACC coaches aren’t shy about sending their players to the Turks. Walter said he has spoken with Virginia coach Brian O’Connor – who played for the Turks in the early 1990s – and Virginia Tech coach Pete Hughes about his players’ positive experience in Harrisonburg.
“That’s why I’m able to get players from Duke and Georgia Tech and Auburn, because all those guys trust me and they know me,” Wease said.
“That opens up the door for the players coming next year.”
The Turks‘ season begins June 1 against Covington at Veterans Memorial Park.