Wingate’s Billings Among VBL’s Best

By Nick Sunderland
Daily News Record

Harrisonburg – Shane Billings is a throwback player.

A baseball junkie of sorts, the Wingate University center fielder has never worn batting gloves – he said he likes the feel of a wooden bat in his hands.

Before all his games, Billings – a Valley Baseball League all-star hitting lead-off this summer for the Harrisonburg Turks – makes sure to take a prolonged knee on the third-base line to pray after the conclusion of the national anthem.

Of Billings’ many baseball habits, one does not come by choice.

With the Turks, he’s been wearing his ball cap underneath his batting helmet at the plate.

“I have a small head, so I have to wear my hat. All the batting helmets are too big,” Billings said with a laugh.

Not that it has slowed the 5-foot-11, 180 pound speedster much.

As of Wednesday, Billings had the second-best batting average in the VBL at .404 to go along with two inside-the-park home runs – and his 15 stolen bases were tied for the league lead.

Those numbers are right in line with what Billings did this past spring as a sophomore at Wingate (North Carolina), where he led the Division II program in hitting (.408) and stolen bases (26) over 56 starts.

“I see his ceiling as possibly being in the big leagues, because he can run, he can hit and he can throw,” said longtime Turks manager Bob Wease. “I mean, he’s a little naive when it comes to learning how to run on what pitch. But that will come with time. …He’s still a little raw, but he’s got a ton of ability.”

And Billings’ thirst for the game is just as encouraging.

He is the lone Turk living this summer at Wease’s seven-bedroom, four bathroom home in Harrisonburg – the rest of the team is set up in apartments at Pheasant Run Townhomes – and Wease said baseball is a constant topic of disussion.

“He works. He works hard.” Wease said. “That’s what it takes to be a ball player. You’ve got to work every day, you’ve got to stay with it. You’ve got to get your sleep, and you’ve got to concentrate on nothing but baseball. Shane lives with me, and that’s all he does – talks baseball all the time.”

Billings ended up living with the Weases – Bob and his wife, Teresa, have five children, all of whom have outgrown living at home – after he told his college coach, former Turks assistant Jeff Gregory, that he’d prefer to spend his summer with a host family, a typical arrangement at most Valley League teams (but not the Turks).

Of course, Billings had no idea at the time that would mean he’d be living with his manager. Not that it’s a problem; Wease calls the setup a “blessing,.”

He said Billings is living in the basement – complete with his own fridge, private bathroom and pool table – though Billings said most of his free time outside of playing and training is spent catching up on the history of the game he loves.

Billings’ parents were both born in Baltimore, so naturally Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. is among the Kernersville, North Carolina, native’s all-time favorite players.

But Billings, too, has an eye on past generations. In fact, he said he tries to watch as many video clips from early 1900’s legend “Shoeless” Joe Jackson’s playing days as possible.

“It makes you a smarter player,” Billings said. “If you can learn more about the game, it helps you with your game.”

Billings will have a chance to showcase his skills in front of roughly 30 major league scouts during Sunday night’s Valley League All-Star Game at Veterans Memorial Park. In addition to playing in the game, he said he’s also slated to compete in the VBL’s 60-yard dash contest.

“It’s hard to explain,” Billings said of his recent outstanding play. “When you’re seeing the ball well, you feel like it’s hard to get out. And when you do, you feel like it’s on yourself. To me, it’s all about confidence and having the right mental state whenever you’re going up to hit.

“…If you’ve got the right mindset, nothing should be able to take you down. You should be able to battle through anything.”