Cancellation of VBL Season Season Didn’t Come Easy

By Greg Media and David Driver
Daily News Record

The reality hasn’t set in yet, but Bob Wease can sense it coming.

Ballparks throughout the Valley Baseball League will be chillingly empty on toasty evenings in June and July for the first time in the organization’s history.

Late Thursday, the Valley Baseball League Baseball League announced its executive committee voted to cancel the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Played Little League, Babe Ruth, American Legion, County League, Valley League, and all that good stuff,” said Wease, the Harrisonburg Turks skipper for the last 17 years as well as president and general manager or the club since 1981. ” I just don’t know what I’ll do with myself this summer because it’s been 65 years in a row that I’ve been on a baseball field. I know I’m going to be going crazy.”

Wease said in spite of how much he’ll miss managing his Turks and building relationships bound to last longer than a couple of months with his players, he believes the VBL and commissioner Bruce Alger made the smart choice to scrap the campaign.

“To think that the league would play a part in prolonging the end of this (pandemic),” Alger said, “we couldn’t accept that and take the risk. It’s the right decision and in talking with Major League Baseball (Friday) morning, they support the decision and commend us for making it.”

The VBL has been one of the premier collegiate summer leagues ever since it became an NCAA-canctioned league in 1981. It’s funded in part by a grant from Major League Baseball has a member of the National Alliance of Collegiate Summer Baseball.

“This whole thing is beyond sports,” said Turner Ashby grad and former big leaguer Brian Bocock, who played for Luray in 2004 in the VBL. “It is about the health and safety not only of our country but our community globally. I think that it is important to remember.

Its 42-game regular season schedule was slated to start May 29 with four games, including the Turks playing host to Purcellville. But that start date falls before Gov. Ralph Northam’s stay-at-home order expires on June 10 – which he announced Monday.

“We cannot bring 350 players into the Valley who have been at the beach and all over the country and put them in with host families” Wease said.”You never know, one of ’em could have the virus and give it to an old man or an old woman or get on the bus with the boys and give it to all the boys. We just cannot run that risk.

“I’m the only (summer league) team in the country that puts players in apartments, but everyone else puts them with host families and we just cannot run that risk of putting a kid with a host family. I think Bruce made the right decision, but it’s tough.”

Alger said, ” For the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our administration and our fans, and all the way around. Even for our sponsors, too, because instead of them spending money to give to us to put a pennant on the outfield fence, they can use that money to help their employees or their business or communities in other ways because there are people who need it far more than we do right now.”

Alger is a local baseball lifer like Wease, too.

Alger began his time in the VBL at age 11in 1965 when he started hanging numbers on the Rebel Park scoreboard, eventually working his way up to president and general manager of the New Market club.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Alger said. “I’m sitting here now in my sun room and I’m  right beside the ballpark, and I’m looking down the first baseline at Rebel Park. The field is right in front of me.”

Alger said the VBL, will return stronger for 2021, and Wease said the same about the Turks.

Wease added if the Rockingham County Baseball League has a season, that he’d like to coach in it as an assistant or even run his own team if there’s a demand for it. But for now, he’ll reminisce and reflect on all the great memories he has of the games he’s coached in and players he’s connected with over the almost three decades in charge of Harrisonburg.

“Oh my God, yes,” Wease said. “Mo Vaughn, Steve Finley, Chris Hoiles, David Eckstein, Juan PIerre, Clint Robinson, Cliff Pennington. The list just goes on and on, but we can’t risk it this year. It’s a sad situation, but we made the right decision.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball but I would imagine everyone is going to follow,: Nationals scout Jeff Zona told the News-Record on Friday night of other summer leagues perhaps following suit. “I am just guessing. Everything out there in the world is changing day to day and week to week.”

His son, Nick, is an infielder for James Madison and was slated to play again this summer for Wease and the Turks.

Other alums of the VBL, include Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals; former JMU slugger Lorenzo Bundy, a veteran MLB coach slated to be a Met’s minor league skipper this year; and J.D. McCurdy, a former Bridgewater College tandout and the softball coach at Eastern Mennonite University. Erik Kratz, 39, a catcher in the Yankees’ system, also played in the VBL with the Turks while at Division III EMU.

Spotswood High graduate Daryl Irvine pitched for the Harrisonburg Turks in 1984 and was teammates with Finley, Kirt Manwaring, and Jamie Moyer. All four of them made the majors, with Irvine breaking in with the Boston Red Sox in 1990.

“The league helped me get seen by scouts,” Irvine told the Daily News-Record on Friday. One of those scouts were Wayne Britton, who signed Irvine to a contract with the Red Sox.

It also allowed Irvine, who grea up in Grottoes, to face a lineup of Division I hitters since he pitched in college at Ferrum – then a junior college.

Irvine recalls Finley, an outfielder, getting injured in 1984 with the Turks. But he returned to the team the following summer, was drafted by Baltimore in 1986 and made his MLB debut with the Orioles in 1989.

The league has also helped coaches move up the ladder. Former Turner Ashby High baseball coach Ray Heatwole, a member of the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame, was the coach of Madison (County) in the VBL in the mid 1980’s. One of his players was VMI product Christ Finwood, now the head baseball coach at ODU in Norfolk.

It was an experience, because I had never been around college kids before,” said Heatwole, who later became the head coach at JMU.

Bocock played at Stetson in Florida in college and then in the Valley League before the Cape Code League. One of his teammates in Luray was Daniel mUrphy, a former infielder for the Washington Nationals. Their manager was Mike Bocock, the uncle of Brian.

A former infielder with the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies and the father of two girls, Brian Bocock feels the health of the public takes priority over baseball at this point. He also feels when baseball does return it could attract new fans who long to be outside.

“As much as it means to us sports lovers, it is minuscule in the grand scheme of things,” he said Friday of baseball and sports in general.