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Pro player Witt gets start at Fredericksburg

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | May 14, 2021

Jefferson graduate Paul Witt throws onto first base during a game in the sprint for Virginia Commonwealth University. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — With only four minor league waystops available in the Washington Nationals’ diluted system of minor league teams, Jefferson High School graduate Paul Witt is on the early-season roster of the Low-A East Fredericksburg (Virginia) Nationals.

Witt, a middle infielder who was a mainstay on Jefferson’s state championship teams in both 2015 and 2016, was last seen during the virus-shortened 2020 season at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

In the early going in 2020, Witt and his teammates were only able to get in about 20 games before the season was hijacked by the coronavirus.

It was Witt’s fourth year at VCU. He could have opted for another year of college baseball because the NCAA gave every athlete the option of coming back for another season since 2020 was basically a washout for spring college sports.

But Witt had other goals. He wanted to play professional baseball, and as they say, “He wasn’t getting any younger.” Turning 23 in late October of 2020, he took the Nationals’ offer of a professional contract.

There wasn’t any hefty signing bonus for the slender 5-foot-11 second baseman. He had not been drafted in any of the five rounds of the June 2020 selections of free agents. Since he was not drafted, Witt wasn’t eligible for a signing bonus of more than $20,000. He was given his opportunity to try professional baseball and he took it.

After what is labeled as “extended spring training” this year, Witt was placed on the roster of the Fredericksburg team. His future isn’t guaranteed. With little or no signing bonus money in his hand, Witt is not a “major investment” by the Washington franchise and faces an uphill skirmish if he is to move along toward Major League Baseball. It’s not as troubled as was the task of Sisyphus in trying to roll a boulder up a steep incline, but Witt does not have the politics of baseball on his side.

He must produce some useful offensive numbers. He must stay healthy and keep injury-free. Players without the luxury of bonus money can’t be luckless at the plate and they can’t be placed on the injury list where they miss valuable games.

Witt’s task as a free agent signee without much — if any — bonus money is formidable.

But he is playing and that’s more than thousands of others can say. His future has to be laced with success after success and a loathing of the trainer’s office or any doctor’s visits.

Washington has only four minor league teams above any rookie league designation. There will be another draft of free agents this summer and places will have to be found on minor league rosters for them. And then another crop of undrafted free agents — like Witt — will be signed and spots for them also needed.

Witt will not be favored or groomed like those with large signing bonuses. He has to show that he has potential. And Major League clubs are always searching for intelligent, team-oriented individuals who could eventually be “front office” types or teachers of the game to young players — i.e. on-field managers, high level scouts, assistant general managers, general managers, traveling secretaries, community liaisons, public relations directors, minor league directors and on-field instructors.

Witt is just getting started. Still learning what he needs to know. Should he survive the winnowing processes this summer, he will likely stay with Fredericksburg all season.