A Legion of issues find solutions
It was almost like starting a ballgame with your team down 2-0 in the bottom of the second inning.
The American Legion baseball season just past was an exercise in catch-up for New River Valley Post 68. The 68ers faced having to stage a rally before the ballplayers ever took the field for the first time.
Signals went out at once that trouble was afoot. When team general manager Danny Evans sent out an email announcing an unprecedented third round of tryouts in June, veteran observers knew choppy baseball seas were ahead. The only reason to have a third round of tryouts is because auditions Nos. 1 and 2 produced unsatisfactory results.
For new coach Josh Wilburn, just coming off coaching a West Virginia state championship team at Princeton High School, it was a tough way to begin a second baseball career.
Although the subsequently assembled team was rarely if ever at full 18-man strength, New River Valley’s initial campaign under the new field boss was a commendable comeback story.
After dropping a pair in the double-elimination District 9 West tournament last weekend, Post 68 was done for the season, the final record 5-8. Three games under .500 may not strike you as particularly noteworthy, but the important ledger was the 5-3 regular season mark in the district competition. That was good for second place in the standings and the corresponding second seed in the tournament.
New River Valley got there by sweeping Salem the last weekend of the regular season.
“That makes me feel a little bit better about the season,” Wilburn said then.
That’s why you had to admire what was accomplished. With Wilburn up to the bill of his ball cap in chores and challenges related to Princeton’s unprecedented run to the state crown and the aftermath, it was a wonder they managed to get a Legion team picked in the first place.
With a few exceptions such as 3-hole hitter Drew Cox and catcher Derrick Duncan, this was for the most part an inexperienced team in Legion competition. Part of that was luck off the draw and part a product of a late start getting organized.
An earlier start is something Wilburn plans to address next season. One way to do it will be to obtain information on prospects for the roster before tryouts. With Wilburn in West Virginia during the high school season, he acknowledged he was going to need some additional pairs of scouting eyes at work.
“I’m going to get some help with looking at players during the high school season,” he said.
When Evans was coaching years back, he was a fixture at New River Valley high school games checking out the talent. He worked the phones seeking information. His thoroughness in performing those duties even led him to question sportswriters about players, a strategy that was either unorthodox or reckless, depending on the point of view.
Wilburn will need a similar support network when the process of selecting the 2013 team is underway if the intention is to avoid fielding another makeshift lineup.
“There were guys who we could have picked up that should have been on this team that weren’t,” he said.
That’s not counting guys like Timesland player of the year Dylan Raymond of Giles Tyler Frazier of Pulaski County, and Ben Fraley of Blacksburg – all off playing in a wooden bat league as they prepared for their freshmen seasons at Bluefield State.
Never mind them. Others asserted themselves. A couple to keep an eye on: Trey Shumate of Christiansburg, pitcher, and Tyler Blevins of Pulaski County, infielder. Shumate pitched a lot of big innings this summer. Blevins is a rising sophomore who swings a senior-caliber bat.
Elsewhere among tomorrow’s standouts, Vinny Kuchenbuch of Floyd County stepped in for the sore-armed Duncan and did an outstanding job behind the plate. Cox, who still has another season at Radford, was terrific. He’s a college prospect now.
You’ll hear from all these guys some more. But when it comes to next American Legion season, they’re going to need some more help.
Getting the right guys in the lineup is more than scouting, though. These days, there is a lot of salesmanship involved on the part of the coach. Players have a lot of choices for their summer vacations. Travel teams, showcase tournaments, and camps siphon off players. It’s the job of the Legion coach to explain the benefits of that level of ball – and they are numerous – so that prospects can make an informed choice.
Meanwhile, to this year’s group: Great comeback story against significant odds. Hats off.
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-1672.
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