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By Leyton Pullin
On Saturday in Grottoes the RCBL held an umpiring clinic for its new and returning umpires alike to serve as a refresher with the long layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic with the 2020 Season two weeks away. RCBL Umpire In Chief Jeremy Washington said this clinic was more about the 5% of the game that the normal fan couldn’t call. “Most people can call 95% of a game like anyone can call someone out on a ground ball to shortstop but what we worked on today was more of the force play slide rules, interference, balks, and those types of plays.”
Those that attended the clinic included the likes of Marco Floyd who has experience in multiple Babe Ruth Virginia State and South East Regional Tournaments and some high school experience. Floyd was joined by VHSL Umpires and Umpires of different skill levels all looking to take their umpiring to a higher level in the second oldest baseball league in the United States.
The clinic featured a group of instructors from different backgrounds including multiple NCAA Division III umpires, a NCAA Division I umpire, a MLB Umpire, a Division III World Series Umpire, and a Minor League Baseball Umpire Supervisor. The Umpires that attended the training went through multiple drills throughout the morning where they were put in made up situations and had to react to the situation as the play developed. The Umpires were then put into action to officiate a scrimmage between The Grottoes Cardinals and The Montezuma Braves. The scrimmage was also a learning experience for the umpires that attended the training as their supervisors watched them and critiqued their mechanics throughout the game.
The RCBL Season is set to start on Saturday June 27.
By Megan Phelps
I had the pleasure to interview Montezuma’s second year manager, Chris Rush. Last year the Braves finished tied for 5th with a 12-16 record and lost in the first round of the play-offs. We go over the new changes for the season. Changes include expanding the roster by 3 players and added additional opportunities for free agents. Additionally, the 21-game schedule will be played in a one-month period.
In this interview, Chris Rush explains his plans for the Montezuma Braves. He discusses the players who will be returning, and the new players he has picked to join his team. Rush points out that he concentrates on the future of his team, not just the short-term season. This season will be one of the most exciting, with many talented players joining the RCBL from other leagues.
In your second-year coaching at Montezuma will you change your approach? How do you hope to improve your team?
“Our approach is going to stay the same, we did fill a couple of holes this year where we lost a couple of guys. We particularly added to our pitching staff and brought in some young guys. Our goal is to win it all this year, that’s every coach’s goal. We’re not looking for a quick fix, we did bring in a couple of guys that will only be here a year, but it was a limited number of guys. If we change our approach it would be going after quality players who will be with this team for 3-5 years. We’re trying to improve on last year while also keeping a core group for the next years.”
Who are your key returning players for the season?
“From the veteran standpoint, we have Kyle Armstrong who has been with the team for a number of years playing centerfield. He’s a utility guy who can also play the infield and pitches when needed. Brandon Lambert will be back with us this year. Brandon has been with the team for about four or five years now. Owen Stewart has been with Montezuma for a couple of years. Owen is primarily an outfielder but provided some pitching for us last year. We’ve got Gavin Rush coming back, middle infield guy, he brings some speed to the table for us. Going back to the first question, we did try to build our team around speed this season as well with the new guys coming in. Luke Paczewski was with us last year at third base and that’s probably where he will return this year with some first base. And then PJ Hanisak. All those guys were all-stars and I know PJ and Luke had a big year with some of their awards at the end of the season. We bring some tenure back with some of the players in a leadership role. We’re hoping it will bleed over to the younger guys we brought in this year.”
Who are the new players? Where did they come from and how do you think they will affect your team?
“Some of the younger guys we picked up include Grant Thomas who goes to T.A. [Tuner Ashby High School], really good baseball player. He has some good upside for his age. Noah Canterbury from Buffalo Gap [High School], who is another plus guy, outfielder, and left-handed pitcher. Both of those guys will see some good innings this year, on the mound and on the field. Michael Robertson, first year with our team and he graduated from Riverhead [High School]. He’s a middle infielder guy, outfielder, and he’ll be good at bat. Wyatt Campbell, he’s a catcher, and goes to T.A. For his age he is a good leader and a good command behind the plate. Those are not all, but some of the core guys that we see plus sides to. Especially with the expansion of the roster, and the expansion of free agents, we added some guys who typically play higher level type ball, whether that be Cape [Cod] or Coastal Plain. Those guys are definitely going to help us. But like I said, our goal wasn’t to go out and get guys like that and win it this year and not have anything next year. We wanted to have a good mix of quality players that could almost be leaders or mentors to these younger guys and could prepare them for the coming years.”
21 games is a lot of games to play in a month, do you have the pitching debt for this kind of schedule?
“Yeah, I think we do. It’s going to be tough for any team. You’re looking at needing a minimum of four or five starters with the way the schedule is going to play out. You can get away with less than that but you’re going to take a chance of injuring some of your pitchers. All these guys have baseball outside of this league and we, as coaches, understand that. The last thing we want to do is put them in situations where they’re going to hurt themselves or damage an arm. I think we will be okay; our bullpen was one of the big things we went after this year. Additional guys coming out of the pen, that’s probably where we were lacking most last year. We lost a lot of games after the 5th and 6th innings last year. We had some good-looking guys; we just didn’t have enough. We’ll see how the schedule plays out.”
What is your line up strategy for this season?
“This year the team we have is as deep as any team I’ve ever had. We pretty much have two teams we could put on the field at any time. That’s a big plus as a coach. You know no matter the circumstance, whoever you put out on the field will be able to compete. We will have a core which will probably be more than most team’s core. Our core will be between 14-16 players, not necessarily including pitching. Most people on our team should be pleased with their play time this year. I think they’ll do well for us.”
How do you think this fast-paced schedule will affect your players?
“For some of the younger guys it will certainly be different from high school ball. For the college guys, they’re used to two games during the week and a three-game series on the weekend. It will affect 60-70% of our team, but I don’t think it will be too big a change. Those guys who came from the Cape and Coastal leagues are used to this type of schedule. That’s where some of their experience will come into play and will motivate some of our guys as far as that schedule. It’s going to be tight but we’re looking forward to it.”
What is the biggest challenge facing this season?
“The competition that is going to be in the league this year. Things are different because we, as coaches, can see players get signed in real time. We see players who are released and who picks them up. Looking at that, the league is going to be up as far as talent and competition. I think it’s going to be pretty equal across the board. As a coach, not that you took any team for granted before, but every team is going to have really good talent. It will be up to the coach to take that talent and utilize it the right way. So, I think that will be one of the biggest challenges, utilizing the talent and how to use it, but also how we are going to face the talent we are facing every night.”
How have practices been with the coronavirus infringing on the RCBL schedule?
“We’ve actually been practicing for several weeks now. Our first 3-4 weeks of practice was mainly our local guys. We were trying to adhere to the 10-person rule, so we started out with 7 or 8 guys and worked our way up to 10. Once we hit stage 2, we had our first scrimmage against New Market here [Montezuma]. It’s been challenging trying to follow the rules and regulations of proper distance, but we’ve been able to make it work. We’re lucky, I know there are some teams that don’t have a field to practice on. So, even if it is limited, we are still fortunate enough to do that.”
How do you think the fanbase will be affected by the coronavirus?
“Honestly, I think this year Covid has had a big impact on our community, but I think that the community is looking for something. With RCBL being the only baseball in town right now I think there is potential for this to be a very big year for us. And that’s not just in the quality of baseball but in the fanbase as well. Hopefully, it’s not just this year but we continue to grow.”
By Adam Harnish
The 2019 season for the Elkton Blue Sox ended with the team just one win away from earning a spot in the championship. This year, the Blue Sox are looking to continue their 2019 success and establish themselves as one of the top teams in the RCBL. The team will look fairly different, however, as several big changes are being made for the upcoming season.
First and foremost, longtime manager Dave Loker is stepping down from his post, to be replaced by none other than his son, longtime RCBL slugger JJ Loker. In his first season as manager, the junior Loker is feeling good about the Blue Sox’s roster.
“We plan to compete with everybody,” Loker said. “We can compete with [teams like] Clover Hill, we think we’re gonna be just as good as them...we think it’s going to be a very competitive season.”
The second big change the Blue Sox will experience is a dramatic roster overhaul. RCBL teams will swell to up to 30 players in this shortened season, and for Elkton, over half of those 30 guys will be playing their very first season in the RCBL. Loker credits this huge wave of new players to local leagues shutting down for the year.
“There’s a lot of people who want to come up for the summer, who were scheduled to play in other summer leagues...they want to get some reps in, and [the RCBL] is the only place to do it!”
With those factors in mind, the Blue Sox roster is shaping up to be very intriguing. Anchored by aces Kris Lalk and Jacob Rich, pitching should be a strength for the team. Lalk, the RCBL 2018 Pitcher of Year, will be the top dog of the pitching staff. He posted an impressive statline in the regular season last year (5-0, 3.00 ERA, 56 K in 30 IP). Rich, for his part, won two victories in both of his playoff starts last year, earning a 1.18 ERA in 15.2 innings against the top two teams in the league.
Additionally, the team is adding two starting pitchers from Lynchburg College, in addition to former Blue Sox pitcher RJ Payne, and several of the top arms from the D2 university Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina.
Their pitching depth will be crucial in a shortened, jam-packed season. The Blue Sox are slated to play 21 games in one month, which will not only affect the pitching, but also the hitting. Many new faces will be contending for at-bats, so Loker expects there to be competition to make his starting lineup.
“It’s going to be challenging to get everybody in there, but if you’re a guy who can play the field, hit and pitch, that’s going to be vital for us this season,” Loker explained. “I’m gonna move guys around so we can see what everybody can do, so whoever earns their stripes will take the job.”
The Blue Sox finished in 7th place in the regular season last year, but with a revamped roster, the team has their eyes set on climbing higher and establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned with.
With all the new twists and turns for the upcoming season, many RCBL fans are wondering just how everything will shape up. For new manager JJ Loker, however, his priorities for the Blue Sox’s season are crystal clear. When asked about what the team’s goal was for this summer, Loker had a simple answer. “To win a championship.”
By Mitchell Broughton
Coming off their first playoff series victory under general manager Bryan Duff’s operations last season, the Broadway Bruins have high expectations for 2020.
“We’re in it to win it,” Duff said. “That is the mindset going into every season, but with the talent that we are bringing in and the veterans that are coming back we are feeling really confident.”
For the most part this will be a different looking Bruins team. Starting at the top, a new manager in Chip Abernathy. Knowing him from the travel ball circuit, Duff had nothing but high remarks for the team’s new coach.
“He’s very competitive,” Duff told me. “Chip’s got a lot of good connections that we are excited about.”
How have the Bruins used Abernathy’s connections so far? Bringing in RCBL legend Bobby Wease as an assistant coach. Announced last week, Wease’s “experience and great baseball mind are going to really help us out this season,” Duff said.
With the coaching staff set, what familiar faces will we see in a Bruins uniform this season? First on that list is reigning RCBL pitcher of the year John Judy. In 2019, Judy led the Bruins with 65 strikeouts and only 28 walks, going 4-1 in his eight regular season starts. Playing a severely condensed schedule, 21 games in 28 days, the Bruins are going to need more than just Judy to step up on the mound. Helping him out are a pair of right-handers from Potomac State, Garett Haggerty and Brett Whiteman. Duff also mentioned that Bobby Wease had a hand in bringing in a pitching duo from James Madison, RHP Matthew Kleinfelter and LHP Liam McDonnell, who played for the Harrisonburg Turks last summer. Starting pitching was the weak link for the Bruins in 2019 according to Duff, but the new pitching core could prove to be one of the best in the RCBL.
Statistically speaking, the Bruins need to drastically improve upon their offense in order to win it all. Broadway recorded the lowest hits (210), RBIs (121) and home runs (3) in the regular season last year. Returning veterans like outfielder Matt Meiser (led the Bruins batting .327 in 2019) and infielder Tyler Ault (led the RCBL in 2019 with 13 doubles) come back as crucial members of Broadway’s offensive core. They are also gaining one of the best bats in the Colonial Athletic Association — shortstop Josh Jones from James Madison. As a freshman, Jones was second on the Dukes batting .297 in 49 games to go along with 53 hits and 27 RBIs.
Bryan Duff and his staff have high hopes for the Bruins in 2020. With a solid core of returning veterans and an impressive influx of incoming talent, their goal to win the title in 2020 seems as realistic as it can get.
Broadway will start the 2020 campaign against last season’s champions, when they travel to Buck Bowman Park to take on Clover Hill on Saturday June 27.
By Leyton Pullin
2019 was supposed to be a rebuilding year it seemed before the season began for the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks but the team found success early and often finishing with a 15-13 mark tied for second in the RCBL standings. The team found success with the longball as four Dbacks made up the top six homerun hitters in the league. When asked if he expects the same output this year Manager Les Sandridge said, “Yeah and it would be nice for us to find one or two others with big bats with the same pop.” Sandridge also mentioned the big swings of Cody Bartley and Will Haas who both found themselves near the top of the RCBL homerun chart and both part of a group of returners he expects to hold their own in the pandemic shortened season. “Triston [Childress], [Tyler] Wilcher, Cody Bartley, Brandon Minter, [and] Will Haas are all guys coming back that know what this leagues about and I expect them to hold their own,” said Sandridge.
Stuarts Draft may have found one of their other big bats in the form of new addition Jailey Paredes a 6’6” 220lb Junior. Paredes is no stranger to the Shenandoah Valley as he played last summer for the Staunton Braves in the Valley Baseball League. Paredes only hit in a few games last summer and hit two longballs and four runs batted in, in three games listed as a pitcher but played first base as well.
When asked about the compact twenty-one game season and the stress that would be put on his pitching staff Sandridge simply said, “Its gonna be tight. We’ll have to make do with what we have.” The Dbacks return another stellar arm from a year ago in Cody Bartley who put up a 4-3 record with a team high 44 punch outs.
Stuarts Draft will open their season with a two game homestand against The Montezuma Braves on June 28 and the Elkton Blue Sox on June 30 both games are at the Diamond Club.
By Megan Phelps
Donnie McNett was introduced to the Montezuma Concession Stand about 30 years ago when his father owned it and worked with the Braves. Since then he has taken over the business from his father. McNett finds this line of work rewarding because he enjoys the affect it has on the community. Revenue from his stand is important to the team because it helps them buy equipment such as baseballs and bats. McNett also donates the leftover food to the players on the field.
McNett will continue to use the food prices he has already established in years past for the oncoming season. Due to the meat industry prices rising there is a chance of a slight price increase of his famous McNett Angus Burger. In lighthearted rivalry, McNett’s states his opinion that there is, “no comparison” about if the McNett’s Angus Burger is better than the Clover Hill’s Buck Burger. Hard work comes to McNett’s mind when thinking of the stand. He compared his staff to family because in the hot days of summer they may bicker but they always find a way to finish the job. He states that he will continue to run the stand as long as he is able to do so.
Due to the Coronavirus, McNett has decided to place some safety regulations in place. Staff will wear gloves and masks and maintain six feet away from customers. It takes five people to run the stand so they will try and maintain social distancing while inside the booth as well. He believes this season will have the biggest turnout yet because of the Coronavirus. The Rockingham County Baseball League is one of the few sporting organizations that has decided to maintain its summer season. McNett says it is great environment for families because the environment is easy-going and they try to keep, “riff raff” to a minimum. Locals call Montezuma the, “Field of Dreams” because of the beautiful views once the corn is grown in the distance.
By Mitchell Broughton
Eight-time pennant winner and 2013 RCBL Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Wease will make his return to the County League as an assistant coach for the Broadway Bruins. The Bruins, who finished the 2019 season 14-14, look to utilize Wease’s experience and recruiting talent to put a competitive roster on the field for the shortened 2020 season.
The former player-manager started his career with the RCBL at just 13 with Linville, and after 10 years playing in the Valley Baseball League (VBL) returned to have stints with Linville, Twin County, and Grottoes. In his RCBL career, Wease claimed eight pennants and four series championships. The 1986 Manager of the Year was widely recognized for his abilities both as a player and a coach. Since 1990, Wease has owned and managed the Harrisonburg Turks of the VBL, who announced back in April that the league’s 2020 season would be cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
While disappointed about the cancellation of the Turk’s season, Wease is excited to come back to the RCBL and to still have baseball being played in the Shenandoah Valley. Due to the cancellations of the VBL and many other summer leagues across the region, he expects the level of play and the talent of the RCBL to be some of the best it’s ever been. Wease plans on bringing in a pitching duo from James Madison University, Matthew Kleinfelter (RHP) and Liam McDonnell (LHP) who also played for Wease on the Turks last summer. He said a lot of VBL players have been in contact with him asking to play this summer in the County League.
Broadway is slated to open up at Buck Bowman Park against the Clover Hill on Saturday June 27 at 7:30 pm with league legend Bobby Wease in the dugout.
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