By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- Brothers Ryan and Bradley Henschel haven't had too many opportunities to share the baseball diamond together in a competitive atmosphere.
With Ryan being five years older than Bradley, there was no chance that the two could team up on the field in Little League when they were younger. And the fact that Bradley was only in eighth grade when Ryan was a senior at Stonewall Jackson High School in 2011 prohibited the duo from playing together at the varsity level in high school.
Only once, when they played together in a fall baseball league in 2010, did the Henschel brothers share the same baseball uniform.
The tandem found a solution to that problem this summer.
After spending most of their lives playing catch, working on drills and throwing bullpen sessions as an unofficial pitching and catching battery at the park near their house in New Market, Ryan and Bradley Henschel are finally getting to experience the real thing with the New Market Shockers in the Rockingham County Baseball League this summer.
"Actually being able to pitch to him on the field has been a unique experience," said Ryan Henschel, a starting pitcher for the Shockers, of his younger brother, who handles a lot of the catching responsibilities for the team.
Ryan Henschel said he and Bradley grew up playing baseball, and the two typically spend time helping each other improve at their respective positions. Ryan Henschel is entering his senior year at Eastern Mennonite University, where he has been a pitcher over the last three years after working in that same capacity at Stonewall Jackson. Bradley Henschel, who will start his senior year of high school in the fall, has been a catcher at Stonewall since joining the school's junior varsity program in eighth grade.
Ryan Henschel said Bradley often catches his bullpen sessions during the offseason, and Ryan will in turn help Bradley work on catching drills.
All of that practice has helped develop a unique connection between pitcher and catcher when Ryan is on the mound for the Shockers this summer.
"We've got great chemistry because we've been practicing together since we were little," Bradley Henschel said. "It's different [when Ryan's pitching] because we're always on the same page and it makes it a lot easier."
The Henschel brothers don't just share a special bond with each other, however. Two more Stonewall Jackson alumni -- recent graduate Colton Harlow and 2013 grad Trey Alger -- are also playing for the Shockers this season.
Ryan Henschel, Harlow and Alger -- who each are in their second summer with the Shockers -- played together briefly during Ryan Henschel's senior year of high school, and Harlow and Alger also shared the diamond with Bradley Henschel during their high school careers.
All agreed it was exciting to be playing with former teammates, but like the Henschel brothers, the time spent during the summer with the Shockers has been extra special for Harlow and Alger.
"Me and Colton have been playing together since Little League. After high school we didn't think we were going to get to play with each other anymore but it's nice to come out here and play competitively still," Alger said.
New Market has struggled in the RCBL this season (the Shockers were 3-17 and in last place going into Friday's game against Clover Hill), but the contingent of past and present Stonewall Jackson players have made their contributions nonetheless.
Alger, who was selected to play in the RCBL All-Star Game back on June 28, entered Friday batting .294 with two RBIs and four runs scored in 34 at-bats. More important than his bat, Alger's flexibility in the field has been a nice luxury for Shockers manager Smokey Veney.
"There's days where we don't have people there and he can step in a play the infield and the outfield," Veney said of Alger, who is being utilized as a first baseman at Randolph-Macon College. "Last year he played [for the Shockers] but he didn't get that many at-bats. But this year my goal was not to play him in the infield as much because of the guys we had, so I stuck him in the outfield and he's been able to get more at-bats."
Harlow, who will join James Madison University's baseball team as a preferred walk-on in the coming school year, has been focusing on getting one start a week on the mound with New Market this summer. Harlow is 1-2 in six appearances (three starts) with a 3.96 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched.
Veney added that Harlow has been playing practically every day in center field when he's not on the mound, and Harlow is batting .286 with two doubles, two triples and two RBIs this summer.
Ryan Henschel has made five starts on the mound for New Market this summer and he's 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 24.1 innings pitched. His best outing of the season came in a 1-0 win over Elkton on June 4, when he pitched eight shutout innings while allowing just two hits and striking out four.
"A couple of things that I'm trying to work on is getting deeper into games and throwing my curveball more consistently. Also throwing my fastball and changeup on both sides of the plate," said Ryan Henschel, who made the switch from relief pitcher to starter between his freshman and sophomore seasons at EMU.
Bradley Henschel's busy summer schedule -- he's also been taking an EMT class at Lord Fairfax Community College -- had limited him to just eight games heading into Friday, but he said he's using the opportunities he does get on the field to focus on improving for his senior year at Stonewall Jackson.
"It's been a great experience switching to wooden bats from aluminum bats," Bradley Henschel said. "I'm trying to keep my swing the same because I hit pretty well this past year for Stonewall. I'm not really focusing on average or anything, just swinging the bat well."
New Market has just six games remaining before the regular season comes to a close, and the Shockers are hoping they can reverse some of the misfortune that has plagued them this season to help end the summer on a strong note.
"There's some games where get outplayed but sometimes it's just like one or two bad innings," Alger said. "We're competing. ... We just have to start putting it together."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org