Staff Has Turks Atop VBL
Valley League’s First-Place Turks Blending Older, Younger Assistants
By Nick Sunderland
HARRISONBURG – Prior to Harrisonburg’s victory over Winchester in the 2012 Valley Baseball League championship series, Mark Klosinski’s wife, Lisa, had never seen him before without his trademark mustache.
Paying off a bet that he had made during the season, Klosinski – a 58 year-old assistant coach with the Turks – eventually parted ways with his three-decade-plus-old piece of facial hair as part of Harrisonburg’s title celebrations.
While his regrown full white mustache and thin brimmed glasses make him look the part of a classic baseball coach, Klosinski was in fact something of a novice when he joined Harrisonburg’s staff eight seasons ago.
Now he is considered to be longtime manager/owner Bob Wease’s “right-hand man” on the Turks’ three-man assistant coaching staff. The Trio, which Wease lauds as the best in the Valley League, was rewarded for its efforts Sunday night when it received the honor of coaching the South squad in the VBL All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Park.
“It’s a whole hell of a lot better than watching it on the TV,” Klosinski quipped during a rain delay and eventual postponement of a game in Harrisonburg against Front Royal last week.
As the story goes, Klosinski was preparing to participate in a baseball tournament in Cooperstown, New York, around a decade ago. He was invited by friends to compete in the tournament- which allows males of all ages from around the nation to play on the same team. At the time, Klosinski’s last exposure to the game of baseball had come as a high school player in the Atlanta area.
Looking to brush up, Klosinski was walking by old Veterans Memorial Stadium one summer day and happened to see Wease cutting the infield grass in the hours before a Harrisonburg game.
Upon approaching Wease, Klosinski said, he offered his grounds-keeping services in exchange for a chance to play catch and take some batting practice. The two quickly became friends, and their chance meeting eventually developed into something bigger.
“For the third year, I think it was, I said, “Mark you’ve done a great job for me. What if I just give you a uniform? Will you be one of the coaches?” Wease said. “And he says, “You’d do that for me?” And I says, “Yeah, I would!” And he’s been with me ever since.”
Wease’s free-spirited style has no doubt aided him in his ability to recruit gifted college players to play for first-place Harrisonburg (17-7).
First-year pitching coach Jason Kuhn, a left-hander who pitched for James Madison from 2006-2010, said that attitude becomes contagious in the clubhouse.
“He’s a guy who wears his heart out on his sleeve,” Kuhn said. “The biggest thing with Bob is he expects 100 percent effort. And the guys see that, and they respect that. They respect a guy who comes out every single day, who brings it every single day. There’s not an off day when you’re out on the field. For three hours every game, you’re going to bring it. And Bob’s going to bring it harder than most.”
Having spent the past two seasons as a volunteer pitching coach at JMU under longtime manager Spanky McFarland, Kuhn’s desire to one day earn a paid coaching gig brought him together with Wease for the summer.
Kuhn’s primary source of income currently comes from serving as an instructor at baseball camps, and he admits everyday life is simply “finding a way” at this point.
For 52-year -old first-year assistant Rodney Cullen, the final member of Wease’s staff, coaching with Harrisonburg is an opportunity to unearth instructional gems for his players during the high school season.
Cullen has been coaching at the high school level for nearly 30 seasons – he’s spent the past 11 at Wilson Memorial, winners of the 2013 Division 2 state championship. And like Klosinski, Cullen never played at the college level.
While their backgrounds are vastly different, each of Wease’s three assistants share one common characteristic.
“I just love baseball,” Cullen said.