By Jeff Nations
NEW MARKET -- Colton Harlow is just getting started with what looks to be quite a promising baseball career.
The rising senior at Stonewall Jackson High School has jumped on the fast track for baseball prospects, flashing his skills as a pitcher and outfielder at various showcase events.
Harlow still makes the occasional appearance at Rebel Field, though, when his busy schedule allows for it. This summer, Harlow is playing for the Rockingham County Baseball League's New Market Shockers.
Zach Stiles knows he's probably winding up what has been a successful baseball career, winding through high school at James Wood to junior college at Allegany College of Maryland before settling in for two years at Newberry College in South Carolina.
Now an assistant baseball coach at James Wood, the 30-year-old Stiles is playing this summer for the Shockers right alongside Harlow. Although he's not the oldest player in the 10-team RCBL or even on the New Market roster, Stiles realizes he's on the short end of his playing days.
Not just yet, though.
"I've just got a love for the game," Stiles said. "I'm just not ready to give it up, I guess. I feel like if I can stay and keep up with these guys and not start diminishing, I might play a couple more years.
"As long as my body holds up. I'm 30, so I'm not getting any younger."
Harlow and Stiles are part of an eclectic group of Shockers hoping to make some noise in the historic RCBL this season, with the ultimate goal of soon challenging the established powers like the Clover Hill Bucks and the fast-rising Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks.
Off to a 3-9 start heading into Tuesday's home game against the Broadway Bruins, the Shockers have a lot a ground to make up -- and fast. The regular season is only 28 games, so there's not much room for slumps or slow starts.
New Market manager Smokey Veney, who's been coaching the team since its inception in 2004 and took over a full-time skipper in 2005, still likes this particular group of Shockers despite the bumpy start. Unlike some past seasons, Veney thinks his team has enough pitching to contend on any given night.
"The main thing is we're trying to get into the colleges to get more pitching," Veney said. "We've tried in the southern end (of the RCBL), but pretty much everybody who stays in the area gets on one of those teams on the southern end. But this year we really lucked out with Shenandoah University. We got a couple pitchers from there that have really helped. We've got great innings out of those guys."
Shenandoah's Cody Vorous, Brandon Duarte and Tyler Campbell have helped bolster a staff that also added former Stonewall Jackson and current Eastern Mennonite lefty Ryan Henschel, plus big right-hander Patrick Bankemper from Liberty University.
Then there's Harlow, the lone high schooler on the roster -- the Shockers' Trey Alger just graduated this spring. Harlow made a positive impression his first time out for New Market when he pitched during a season-opening exhibition against the Valley Baseball League's New Market Rebels. Like the RCBL, the Valley League is a wooden-bat only operation. Unlike the RCBL, the Valley League draws from a nationwide pool of strictly collegiate players.
"What impressed me the most is the night we scrimmaged the [New Market] Rebels, he three shutout innings against them and really got confidence as he went along," Veney said. "And he's really going to help us in the field -- excellent outfielder, he's got a good bat, puts the ball in play."
One possible lineup this season could well feature Harlow and Mike Lennox, his coach at Stonewall Jackson.
The newcomers have helped, but Veney is quick to point out his core has kept the team going for years. Some, like Veney's sons Josh and J.D., have been with the team from the beginning.
Adam Foltz is another of those long-time Shockers. He was recruited while still playing high school ball at East Hardy in West Virginia, and split time that first year between RCBL and American Legion games. Foltz went on to college at Potomac State and later at Clarion University to play baseball, but in the summers he always found his way back to Rebel Field. He's in his ninth season playing for the Shockers.
"It's really competitive, actually, especially Clover Hill and Stuarts Draft," said the 28-year-old Foltz. "I like it because you've got a lot of guys who played in the minors and whatever else. There's a handful of guys who played independent ball, and most everyone has played college -- anybody who's over the age of 20."
Veney's son, Kevin Rush, is another long-timer on the squad. Veney said Rush was a driving force in bringing the team together when it started in 2004 and has been a regular ever since, even though he drives back and forth from Fredericksburg for games.
"He's the one who pretty much got it started," Veney said of Rush. "He keeps me in line, and he's who I go to if I have any questions."
The current New Market squad might seem like newcomers compared to some of the old-time teams in the RCBL (founded in 1924), which lays claim to being one of the oldest continuous baseball leagues in the country. But the Shockers are not the first RCBL team to play in Shenandoah County -- Twin County played a number of years with Rebel Field as a home park before breaking up sometime in the mid 1990s.
Keeping this franchise afloat takes plenty of volunteer labor, and Veney paid special credit to the team's board of directors and concession workers for their dedication and fundraising efforts.
The players put in their time, too, on the field and often on the highway to get to games. Stiles, a major recruiter for the Shockers, lives in Winchester and has brought in several players from that area.
"I do a lot of the recruiting on the team," Stiles said. "Probably about 80 percent of our team is from up north. We carpool. It makes it a little bit easier."
Veney said the Shockers are still looking to break through for that first championship. The best New Market has done so far is to reach the second round, and that presented a whole new set of problems.
"By the end of the year, we're losing guys for vacation," Veney said. "If we win in the first round, then everybody's leaving for vacation by the second round. So that really hurts us, mainly pitching. This year we really loaded up with pitchers, so hopefully we won't have that problem."
If New Market does turn the season around and makes a run into the postseason, Stiles could well be one who would put vacation plans on hold.
"They are competitive games," Stiles said. "People play to win. There have been times since I've played in the league that it's gotten chippy, people being thrown at -- stuff like that does happen, so it's very competitive. But it's a great league. I love it. It's a chance to play with the wooden bat, and see if you can still hang with the college kids."
"I'm still too competitive to start playing softball right now, to be honest with you. I'm not ready to go on to that yet."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>