Charlottesville defends Valley League title
The Tom Sox draw the league’s largest crowds. They play in the 11-team league’s most comfortable stadium. And Charlottesville will be after a repeat of its 2017 championship when the Valley Baseball League opens its brief schedule today (June 1), which will be over by the first week of August.
Charlottesville is the venerable league’s newest franchise. It joined the college-player ranks when Aldie and Rockbridge left the circuit.
After a so-so first season, the Tom Sox proved to be too much for the other 10 teams in 2017, losing only nine games and romping through the playoffs, which gave them the Lineweaver Cup as its prize for winning the league championship.
Charlottesville is in the five-team South Division of the league and brushed past Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Staunton and Covington in its own division last season.
There are six teams in the North Division: Strasburg, Front Royal, Winchester, New Market, Woodstock and Purcellville.
The first four finishers in each division reach the playoffs – meaning only three teams are left on the sidelines when the postseason begins.
The Tom Sox will be favored again this summer to gain another championship.
Harrisonburg and Charlottesville are the only two league entries that play in college towns. Harrisonburg is the home of James Madison University and the Tom Sox play in the city where the University of Virginia just completed a disappointing season in the ACC.
Some of the teams play at high school facilities, where the lights are not conducive to high batting averages for the position players. New Market, Purcellville, Waynesboro and Staunton play in ballparks that have been around from 30 to 50 years.
In recent years, the league’s talent base has been surpassed by other college-only circuits that have a higher percentage of NCAA Division I faces on their rosters.
The country’s most visible such league is the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts, which has long had the deserved reputation as annually having the most talented group of players around.
The Valley Baseball League has dozens of players from junior college teams, NCAA Division II performers, NCAA Division III athletes and NAIA conferences.
Another nearby college league is the Cal Ripken Jr. League, which has many franchises in Maryland: Baltimore Redbirds, Gaithersburg Giants, Baltimore Dodgers, Silver Spring-Tacoma Park Thunderbolts, Rockville Express and Bethesda Big Train.
The Virginia franchises in the Ripken league are the Alexandria Aces, Herndon Braves and Loudoun Riverdogs. The D.C. Grays are the league’s 10th team.
Every player in both summer leagues has remaining collegiate eligibility. Any player who has participated at a college is eligible to be drafted by the Major Leagues in the June draft of amateur free agents.
Thirty years ago, a significant number of players from Valley League teams were drafted, but now the number has shriveled to only a few. If drafted, the player can sign a professional contract, leave his summer home and no longer be an amateur eligible to return to his college to play again.
Both these summer leagues are ready to begin their 2018 seasons and provide evening entertainment up and down the I-81 corridor in Virginia and the Beltway in Maryland and Northern Virginia.