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Charlottesville, Strasburg, Woodstock dominate Valley Baseball League

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Jul 16, 2021

Rice University’s Austin Bulman bats in a recent baseball game. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — College baseball players have returned to the Valley Baseball League in Virginia for the two-month summer season.

The infamous pandemic eliminated the 2020 season. But now the league has made its own comeback of sorts, playing a 42-game schedule before a quick round of playoffs decide the league champion.

Players come into Virginia from colleges, universities, junior colleges and community colleges from nearly every corner of the eastern, southern, northeastern and midwestern area of the lower 48 states.

Charlottesville (22-8 through games of July 9), Strasburg (21-8 through July 9) and Woodstock (20-11 through July 9) have dominated the 11-team league this summer, Purcellville (8-22 through July 9) and the Covington Lumberjacks (8-20 through July 9) have been dominated so far.

Eight teams make the playoffs, meaning only three teams are left out. The teams can add players or release them as the season moves along from the first weekend in June to the end of the regular season in late July.

There was an All-Star game last Sunday that had the South Division (Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Harrisonburg, Staunton and Covington) send their players against the North Division (Strasburg, Woodstock, Winchester, New Market, Front Royal and the Purcellville Cannons).

The teams mostly travel north and south on I-81 to reach each town, All 11 teams have lights, but the amenities are different depending on whether you are playing at a high school field, city park, 70-year-old stadium or an enclosed ball yard like Bing Crosby Stadium in Front Royal, Va.

Teams have their favorite places to recruit and those that draw from the SEC, Big 12, ACC and other NCAA Division I schools generally outdistance teams that have players from Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College, other two-year schools or a range of NCAA Division III schools.

Often pitchers are on pitch counts because of the workloads they toiled through during their college’s regular season schedule. Others don’t get much work as their teams strain to win and reach the playoffs.

Daniel Ouderkirk, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound pitcher from WVU, has had five starts, worked 15.2 innings to a 6.31 ERA for the Strasburg Express. Another Mountaineer pitcher, Trevor Sharp, has been in six games with three starts for the Express. In his 25 innings, he has a 3.60 ERA.

Shepherd has pitchers Adam Miller (two games, 2.2 innings), Matthew Williams (one game, one inning) and Nic Trabacchi (seven games, four starts and 23.1 innings) all with the Winchester Royals.

After batting .270 this spring for Rice University in Houston, infielder Austin Bulman (a 2017 graduate of Jefferson High) has exploded in the Valley League, being named Hitter of the Week three times and sporting a .413 batting average through games as of July 9. Bulman was 43-for-104, had 12 doubles, 34 RBIs, had scored 27 runs and had five home runs for the Royals. He began his collegiate baseball playing at Shippensburg, went to Wake Forest Community College in North Carolina and can return to Rice for his third season this next school term.

Summer baseball is back in the valley, where New Market, Harrisonburg, Staunton and Waynesboro have been fixtures for many decades.

With lawn chairs used in many venues, and senior citizens flocking out nearly everywhere a game is played, baseball has been welcomed back to the routines many people have valued — until it was taken away in 2020.