By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- It always helps to see a familiar face when beginning a new journey in life that takes you far from home, and far from family and friends.
Just ask Notre Dame freshmen Mac Hudgins and Kevin DeFilippis, who both began their first Valley Baseball League experience this season with the New Market Rebels after playing their first season of college ball with the Fighting Irish.
Hudgins and DeFilippis agree that having the opportunity to share the Valley League experience with a college teammate has helped both men adjust to a largely unfamiliar area.
"It's good because you always have someone to talk to -- you have a friend on the first day so you don't have to stand by yourself," said Hudgins. "It's been good to have someone that I can share both the college season with and the summer season with."
Hudgins and DeFilippis became good friends over the course of their freshman year at Notre Dame, and the pair even scheduled several classes together during the spring semester to make it easier to manage their schoolwork.
Hudgins said he heard about the Valley Baseball League through the Notre Dame coaching staff, which pointed him to the New Market club, and Hudgins decided that's where he and DeFilippis were going to go.
New Market is not completely unlike the area where Hudgins -- a Richmond native -- grew up, but the rolling hills, cornfields and mountain ranges of the Shenandoah Valley seem otherworldly at times to DeFilippis, who grew up in Homer Glen, Ill., 25 miles outside of Chicago.
DeFilippis is still trying to get used to the unique experience that comes along with playing baseball in a small town.
"The whole atmosphere is different, especially for me," DeFilippis said. "Mac is from Virginia, but I'm from Chicago -- it's nothing like how it is out here. The fans are great and they come out and they support us. It's really been a lot of fun."
DeFilippis has started 22 games in the infield for New Market, posting a .289 batting average and nine RBIs, and leads the Rebels with eight steals.
Hudgins, a regular starter in the outfield for the Rebels, is batting .295 in New Market's first 35 Valley League games through Tuesday, and has four home runs and 21 RBIs. He is also leading the team in runs scored, with 26.
Rebels manager John Combs said both Hudgins and DeFilippis bring more to the team than what is seen on the field night in and night out.
"They're the two most energetic kids on the team, they are the life of the clubhouse," Combs said. "Baseball is a game, it's meant to be played, it's meant to be fun, and they keep the game fun."
Hudgins and DeFilippis currently share a basement in the home of Dick and Nan Powell at the Bryce Resort in Basye. Living at the resort provides the duo with a multitude of activities during the down time between games and travel, and the two teammates have been golfing, fishing and even hope to try zip-lining in the near future.
Hudgins and DeFilippis have also done some volunteer work in the community, including helping out at a few baseball camps.
But DeFilippis said that they also try to keep up with their workout routines as strictly as possible to maintain playing shape all year round.
"In school ball it's a little more cut-throat -- here, you get your work in and it's kind of a more individual basis," DeFilippis said. "You learn how to cope with being by yourself. We don't have coaches down our necks, so we don't have to lift, we don't have to run, but you really have to do it if you want to come back next [college] season and be good to go."
Hudgins said that a bonus of the Valley League experience is that players learn to develop the proper mentality when it comes to keeping in shape since there aren't any coaches around to make sure they are hitting the weight room.
"Being forced to do your own work, it is a different experience," Hudgins said. "It's good because you grow up on your own, instead of someone forcing you to do something."
Hudgins and DeFilippis expressed a desire to return to New Market next season, as both have been impressed with the level of support from the surrounding community, including the Powells, who stuck by the Rebels even through New Market's eight-game skid to begin the season.
If the pair from Notre Dame does indeed return to New Market next year, Hudgins and DeFilippis can look forward to seeing more than a few of familiar faces on the first day of the season.
"Our host family said early on that even if we lose, the community is going to support us," Hudgins said. "And that's true. Win or lose, we come over there [to the Powell's] after the game and they feed us, they tell us, 'Good job. We're proud of you. We really support you as a community.'
"It's really nice to have the backing of an entire community."