By Jeff Nations
That familiar crack of a wooden baseball bat has long been a staple of summer in the Shenandoah Valley.
The longstanding Valley Baseball League provides those sound effects throughout the summer, but baseball purists can still get their fix on weekends in the fall. The Frederick County Parks and Recreation Department will be holding its annual wooden-bat league starting in early September, giving area high school students the opportunity to swing lumber just like their parents, or in some cases grandparents, did on a regular basis in the years before aluminum bats became the staple of high school baseball.
Rob Riggleman, a program supervisor for the FCPRD, said the league averages at least 10 teams comprised of 10 to 15 high-school aged players. Most of the players in the league do participate in high school baseball at some level, but not all.
"It possibly can be a mix, but typically we have a much higher percentage of kids who do play for their high school teams," Riggleman said. "You still see some kids that play football for their high school team, but typically the kids playing in this league are concentrating on baseball."
The seven-inning games are played on Sundays at one of the three county high school baseball fields at James Wood, Millbrook or Sherando. Volunteers do the coaching on game day, but high school coaches (prohibited from coaching on Sunday by the Virginia High School League) can actively participate in practice.
The teams are divided by high schools, with a typical season featuring squads from many of the area's high schools as well as some from nearby West Virginia. Depending on interest, though, those teams might be combined to fill out the roster.
Sherando baseball coach Pepper Martin said he and his staff have incorporated the wooden-bat league into the Warriors' expanded offseason training. Swinging the wooden bats is a novelty for Martin's players, but he sees real benefits from that experience.
"We've incorporated things in our practices through the years using wood bats," Martin said. "We have wooden bat days at practice, but it does help. It really emphasizes keeping the barrel, or your hands, inside the baseball so you can center up on some pitches. With an aluminum bat, you can get away with not getting the barrel on it."
The league consists of a six-game regular season, followed by a single-elimination postseason. Game times are limited to two hours.
"In the fall, if the pitchers can throw strikes the games can go fairly quickly," Martin said.
Sherando typically fields one team, sometimes two depending on interest, consisting mostly of freshman and junior varsity players with a few baseball-only varsity players sprinkled in. That always depends on what other sports Martin's players are involved in during the fall season -- if they're playing a varsity sport in the fall, he discourages them from playing in the wooden-bat league.
"Basically, we have to see what kind of turnout we have," Martin said. "We'll call everybody together the first week and see how many we have. If varsity players are involved in a fall sport, we don't let them participate."
Martin said that while the league has by and large been successful and popular among area baseball players, there has been a noticeable roster attrition as the season wears on into October.
"It's somewhat of an abbreviated schedule," Martin said. "Usually we tend to see that as the season wears on, less kids are showing up for the games. That's been somewhat of a trend."
For more information on the Frederick County Parks and Recreation Fall Wooden-Bat League, contact the FCPRD at 540-665-5678 or visit the FCPRD website, www.co.frederick.va.us/departments/o-z/parks-recreation.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>