An Open Letter to VBL Fans

To my readers: Look! I’m un-hiatusing again. And I’m using non-existant words, just like old times. This post is an appeal (in the form of a letter) to supporters of the Valley Baseball League, the longtime love of my small-town summers. It isn’t very polished, but it’s from the heart.

Dear fellow VBL fans,

Following last night’s contest between my own beloved New Market Rebels and the Waynesboro Generals, I feel compelled to address a few issues. Even though the Rebels won the game (and in heart-gripping fashion… excellent job, boys) I was left with a feeling I can best describe as icky.

The sensation was all-the-stronger given the series we just completed against the Staunton Braves. This was an amazing three games. It was intense and fiercely competitive without any bitterness. I am sure that the Braves and their fans were disappointed by the result, but they had nothing whatever to be ashamed of. I would even venture to say that, if you have to lose, you want to lose like that. To be able to hold your head up and shake hands like men when it’s over. I was left with nothing but respect for the 2013 Staunton Braves.

My feelings towards our current opponent will not be so glowing, but I’m writing this before the outcome of this series has been determined so that no one can accuse me of being a sore loser, or a sore winner. Last night’s game was not a friendly one. Although it was embarrassing to see the Generals refuse to shake hands at the conclusion of it, I don’t have much more to say about what happens on the field. I’m not a player or a coach, and they have to be responsible for themselves. What I have to say, I say as a fan, to other fans.

We are not in Los Angeles or New York. We are not (thank the Lord) in Philadelphia. We are in the Shenandoah, my friends, and this is Valley League Baseball. It’s about competition and community. It’s about watching kids play their hearts out, and cheering them on with all of ours. It’s about baseball, pure and simple. So I hope you’ll  forgive me for crying out when I see what ought to be a beautiful summer tradition sullied by contentious behavior.

I’m not trying to pick on any one individual, or even any one franchise. As distasteful as I’ve found certain displays of so-called fandom in others, it is ten times more disappointing when members of my own fan-base think it appropriate to dignify said displays with response/retaliation. I know it’s easy to feel rotten when other people are acting out (I know I sure did), but I would wish to believe that we are better than this. Thus, I implore everyone to give thought to their future actions, and to conduct themselves in a manner more befitting of Valley League fans.

In short: Watch the game. Enjoy it. And support your team without acting like a horse’s patoot.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, do you?

Yours In Sisterly Fandom,
Lizzy

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Saying Goodbye: 2012 New Market Rebels

Another year of New Market Rebels baseball is in the books.

The wide world of baseball these days is so full of Sabermetrics, forecasting, free agency, trades, failed expectations, media craziness, etc., etc., There is so much to distract us from the humanity of the game. People talk about players like they are chess pieces, or cattle. The only thing that matters are results, which I think is really sad. But I am proud to say that this attitude is not the rule in New Market, Virginia. And it is this fact, above all things, that makes baseball here so special to me. We are passionate fans, and want to win, but we will stand behind our team and players no matter what.

Getting knocked out of the playoffs in the first round (and in heart-breaking fashion) by the Waynesboro Generals might not seem like a satisfactory ending, but when you start out 0-8, you have to feel pretty happy to have made it into the postseason at all.
If I know one thing, it’s that this season was memorable, full of enjoyments, and shaped up a lot better than anyone would have thought after the first week. Every baseball season in our little town contains an array of highlights, lowlights, and craziness. 2012 was no exception.
I could go on for a few thousand more words about how great Rebels baseball is, but instead I will just leave y’all with a few photos from this season. Because they’re worth more, and require less effort. Check out the Rebels Facebook page for more.

Legend of the Valley Mo Weber has a word with second year shortstop Matt Ford. Continue reading

Monday Musings: A Hometown Rundown

Note: The following post deals mostly with my beloved New Market Rebels. Unless you are one of a small number connected to the team, you will likely not give two hoots about it. I had to write it, because it was in me and it really wanted out. And when you’re a writer (even just a hackish one, like me) the only way to get it out is to write it. In short, those readers who are in the majority and care nothing for the topic have my apologies and many humble thanks for their forbearance.

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“Baseball becomes dull only to those with dull minds. Today’s game is always different from yesterday’s game.” -Red Barber

Perhaps my favorite thing about baseball is that despite the millions of games that have been played throughout its history, things that have never happened before are still occurring every day. Nobody ever has ever seen it all and nobody ever will see it all. In every season and for every team there are always dozens and dozens of little surprises waiting around the corner to astonish, delight, and/or vex us.

Even as a young(ish) person, I feel like I have witnessed so many crazy, hilarious, terrifying things that took place on a baseball diamond. Sparkling debuts, jaw-dropping catches, scary injuries, rain outs, rain out player antics, a fog out, a hail-out, a black-out, an umpire thinking the game was over after the 8th inning and charging off the field only to turn very red and resume his post when he realized his mistake, an umpire and a coach nearly coming to fisticuffs after the game was over, an umpire losing his footing and falling on the seat of his pants in the middle of a play, winning streaks, losing streaks, a bunt that resulted in an inside-the-park home run (hit by the slowest player on the team, no less)… I could go on and on. And you, readers, certainly have such treasuries of your own stored up.

A more-than-substantial portion of the aforementioned events took place at New Market Rebels’ games. You can always count on the VBL for the weird, exciting, and horrific. The current season is less than halfway through, and it has already been all these things. You’d think I would have learned to anticipate all manners of fantastic things by now, but I haven’t. I’m always taken by surprise.

Allow me to sum up what has happened in Rebel-land so far in 2012:

Nobody in New Market was feeling too gung-ho after the first few games that were played this season. At the same time, you lose a couple and still think, “It’s early, we’ve got plenty of time.” A few losses later you think, “Well, this isn’t good. But it is still early,” and you retain a morsel of hope. By the time of the eighth straight loss, hope was all but gone. We were all heartily discouraged and seriously began to contemplate whether it was possible for a team to go an entire season without winning a single game. And in our hearts we were really afraid that it was.

And then, at last, a spark of light! A win! A walk-off win! A walk-off win against a team that could have crushed us! Euphoria! With the assurance that the Rebels would not, in fact, go 0-44, there was much rejoicing (in the stands AND on the field).

Of course, even with the elephant having been joyfully escorted from the room, with that horrible weight off of everyone’s shoulders, eventually reality sunk in and you remembered that our record was still 1-8. A team doesn’t just turn around over night. Especially not one that had to this point displayed shaky pitching, untimely hitting, questionable defense, and cringe-inducing running of the bases. Best not to get too excited.

But then we won another. And another, and another. A come-from-behind victory here, a good old fashioned trouncing there… suddenly, our little fan hearts were alive with hope again. And I forgot about trying to memorize poetry in the middle of games (what I generally do when a certain game or team becomes very hard to watch), which was almost a shame, because I was really beginning to wish I knew Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the Thing With Feathers”. (Hope is the thing with feathers / That perches in the soul, / And sings the tune without the words / And never stops at all...)

I witnessed my first ever in-person walk-off home run (aside from one or two that came from an opposing team… but those don’t count). The guys managed to come through with three straight walk-off wins at home. Just like that, winning had practically become an expectation. And after having lost eight straight to start the season, these boys won eight straight to make up for it.

This brings us up to the present. The Rebels are 8-10 and in fourth place in their division (it might not sound too spectacular, but it is far and above what one would have expected just a week or two ago). The list of strange, exciting things I’ve seen in baseball has grown to include miraculous in-season turnarounds. Truly, I have never seen anything like it.

The really crazy thing is that this season is still quite young, and there are likely a hundred more crazy things waiting to spring out and spook us in the coming weeks. Isn’t that fantastic? This is why I love baseball. It is insane and unpredictable, just like life. And I’m a little terrified… but I can’t wait to experience whatever is going to happen next.

Stay tuned.

A Rebelious link post

Hey gang! Happy June and all that.

Another exciting year of New Market Rebels baseball has commenced and everyone in our little community is naturally all aflutter. I know it isn’t quite possible for all of my readers (far and wide as you happen to be) to share in this particular passion of mine. So instead of bombarding you with VBL-love, as is my usual way at this time of year, I am instead going to simply offer a handful of links to some previous effusions. You may take them or leave them. Think of this as a Choose Your Own Adventure post (it isn’t really like that at all. But the comparison occurred to me and I couldn’t not mention it, as I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure books. Not as much as Valley League Baseball, but still a whole lot. Mystery of Chimney Rock 4 life!!!)

So, yes. Links:

If you only click one, make it this ‘un. It’s fresh off the presses! I was delighted to be able to moonlight over at the blog of a friend of mine last week (thanks for the opportunity, Staci!). It’s like a travel brochure/Valentine mash-up singing the praises of our fabulous little league.

2011 Farewell Post

2010 Farewell Post

2011 Introductory Post

2004 Article from the Washington Post (I did not write this one, as I do not work for the Washington Post).

Video Coverage!

Pie!

And, just for kicks, here’s a video depicting a bit of improvised pre-game fun.

 

 

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

The curtains have closed on another VBL season in New Market, VA. Our beloved Rebels were eliminated in the decisive 3rd game of the first playoff round. Last games are always a sad event, and this year was no exception.

The season as a whole was up and down- up, mostly, in the first half, and down in the latter. We lost several key players at the end, which didn’t help our cause any. The guys never called it quits, though… they didn’t just roll over and resign themselves to a losing fate. They did not, to quote poet Dylan Thomas, “go gentle in to that good night.” As far as I am concerned, that’s all you can really ask of a team, that they fight. There were intervals in that short playoff series where, for some reason, I kept feeling possessed to shout, “Goonies never say die!” (But I didn’t.)

I will miss a lot of things about the 2011 team and about Rebels baseball in general. Here are just a few of them…

  • The choir of chirping grasshoppers backing up Tacy Hawkins’ National Anthem from the hayfield beyond the outfield wall.

  • Explaining the various dishes of food to the hungry boys at postgame meals. Most of them will eat pretty much anything, but they always want to know exactly what everything is, and what is in it.

  • The now-traditional 6th inning rally song. The player involvement is always amusing, but I won’t miss that so much as watching all the older ladies who sit behind homeplate pumping their fists to the beat. Always puts a smile on my face.
  • Coming home with an inch of dusty dirt on the hems of my pant legs.
  • Antonio Callaway’s fro.

  • Jaren Sustar’s defense at third base. Sparkling.
  • Seth Greene continually attempting to get tossed baseballs to land/perch on a beam in the roof of the dugout. The silly game never seemed to get old.

  • Waiting for an appropriate opportunity to shout “Nobody puts Gaby in a corner!in the direction of outfielder Tyler Gaby. I never got it…

Almost works here…

  • Reciting poetry in my head during hard-to-watch losses. Though I still have the Cubs for this, I suppose.
  • The sort of random, assorted antics that inevitably hatch from the minds of college-aged relief pitchers with enough time on their hands.

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A few more photos, for fun:

Rebels participate in New Market’s 4th of July parade. It was a damp one this year.

11th annual Reading with the Rebels event, put on by the New Market Library.

The Kodak moments always outnumber the cameras at Reading with the Rebels. Always.

“Orphan” pitchers Max Kreuter and Cam Ward escort each other during Parents’ Weekend.

I might miss the unbeatable loveliness of cool summer evenings at Rebel Park more than anything.

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So long and farewell, 2011 Rebels squad! I salute you, one and all.

The Farmboy Files: Midseason Roundup

Since the season is halfway through, I thought it would be a good time to take a peek at a few of the farmboys in the Cubs system and see how they are faring in 2011. First lets look at an overview of where our Cubs affiliates are currently standing…

Peoria Chiefs (Low A): The Chiefs are 41-49 and in next to last place in the Western Division of the Midwest League.

Daytona Cubs (High A): The D-Cubs, under the tutelage of Buddy Bailey, are currently sitting high atop the Florida State league with an impressive 57-33 record. The next best team is 8 games back. Keep it up, Daytona!

Tennessee Smokies (Double A): The Smokies aren’t doing too bad themselves with a 53-38 record on the year. They are easily in first place in the North Division of the Southern League.

Iowa Cubs (Triple A): And the I-Cubs, currently sitting on a 41-51 record, bring us back down to earth. They are in last place in their division of the Pacific Coast League.

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Now that we know where the teams are at, let’s get on to some individuals! Here we go.

Josh Vitters: Long considered the golden boy of the Cubs system, Joshy has yet to really live up to the hype. He has been healthy so far this year, though, which is good. His offensive numbers are respectable, but hardly mind-boggling. He’s batting .279/.316/.442 with 34 runs and 39 RBI through 80 games in Tennessee and has hit 8 homers and 19 doubles. He has a fielding percentage of .885 at 3B, where he has spent the most playing time. I don’t mean to dis the boy, but I’m a bit concerned at this point about what the post-Aramis era is going to look like for the Cubs.

Kyler Burke: The one time Cubs Minor League player-of-the year is a pitcher now, apparently. Whoa.

Matt Szczur: My new favorite prospect. Recently promoted from low-A Peoria to high-A Daytona. He was the Cubs rep in the MLB Futures Game. Follow him on Twitter! @SuperSZCZ4

It’s pronounced “See-zur.” Get it down now, folks!

Rebel Ridling & Ryan Flaherty: Two former VBL players, both doing tremendously well in AA Tennessee. One or other of the two leads almost every offensive category… convincingly ahead of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Vitters. It’s paying off, too. Ryan Flaherty was promoted to Iowa on Monday.

Drafted as a SS, Ryan has moved around a lot the past few years due to the Cubs depth at that particular position. And when I say moved around, I mean moved around. In 2011, he has played short (14 games), 1st (4), 2nd(37), 3rd (12), left (21), right (13), and has acted as DH a few times. It strikes me that Mr. Flaherty might be coming in handy in Chicago in a very short time.

Evan Crawford: I hadn’t heard of Evan up to this point (blast you, Vineline, and your less extensive 2011 minor league prospectus!) He was drafted by the Giants in 2009 and came to the Cubs I know not how.  Evan has registered 98 hits in just 78 games this season in Daytona, which caught my eye. He has also scored 52 runs, stolen 21 bases, and been hit by 12 pitches.

Not to be confused with Toronto double-A pitcher Evan Crawford.

Justin Bour: A Virginia native and George Mason alum. Woot. Justin, who plays 1B, has put up a good showing in Daytona, hitting 17 long-balls and 21 doubles in 85 games. He has driven in 63 runs and scored 45.

Ima be keeping my eye on him now.

Pitching, in general: It’s hard to judge. A lot of our farmboy pitchers have put up some less than exciting stats, but numbers rarely tell the whole story in minor league baseball.

Marwin Gonzalez: BRING HIM UP NOW, BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE TO ACHIEVE THE STARLIN-MARLON-MARWIN-DARWIN COMBO!

Brett Jackson: Promoted Monday to triple-A Iowa along with Ryan Flaherty. Look for one or both in Chicago soon. We are going to need something cooler than “B-Jax” to call him. Get working on that, people.

D.J. LeMahieu: Premature cup-of-coffee stint in Chicago aside, D.J. has been very impressive so far this season. In 61 games between double and triple A, he has batted .353, hit 17 doubles, driven in 31 runs and scored 36. He’s only walked 12 times, but he’s also only struck out 27. I’ll take that.

Angel Guzman: After undergoing major surgery at the beginning of last year, Angel is finally back in the game. He has thrown 4 innings for Peoria and allowed one run. After all that he has been through, you can’t help but get behind this guy and root him on. I hope we will see him back in Chicago soon.

Draftees: Through Thursday, the Cubs had signed 17 of their draft picks from ’11, including first round selection Zeke DeVoss (an outfielder from the University of Miami.) Welcome to the Cubs, Zeke and company!

Stay tuned for more FBB Farmboy coverage throughout the year!