By Brad Fauber
Brad Curl knows that making the transition from hitting off a pitching machine to facing live pitching can be a difficult transition for young baseball players. So he developed a way to help some children in Front Royal face that challenge head on.
About a month ago, Curl, alongside Rob Morris and Mike Shaffer, handpicked 13 young baseball players aged 8 years and younger that participated in the Front Royal Little League's coach-pitch (pitching machine) league to be a part of his newly created Front Royal Diamondbacks 8U travel team.
The team, which is currently one of the few such travel teams in the local area, officially kicked off its schedule in a tournament at Luray on July 12-13.
"The reason I did this is because next year most of these kids are going to be moving up to live pitching," Curl, who serves as the team's head coach, said on Tuesday. "I wanted to make sure they got the instruction they needed to make the change."
Curl's initial plan was to provide young ballplayers with a structured environment in which they could practice mechanics and fundamentals while hopefully sneaking in a tournament or two.
His project quickly took a more ambitious turn thanks to overwhelming support from the Front Royal community.
"That has drastically changed," Curl said of his initial goal for the Front Royal Diamondbacks, which shares the same name as the 13U squad that has been in place for several years. "We have gotten so much support from the parents and some of our fundraisers that we're going to play ball."
The Diamondbacks, which are comprised of 10 8-year-olds, two 7-year-olds and one 6-year-old, now plan to play baseball throughout the year, with tournaments and practices scheduled to fill up much of the team's time all of the way through the winter before it takes a break next spring so as not to conflict with the Front Royal Little League's schedule.
"I wanted to get them out away from the TV, away from the videogames and get them to work on something that's going to help them down the road," said Curl, whose 8-year-old son is playing for the Diamondbacks.
Despite having just three days of practice to prepare for their first round of competition, the Diamondbacks -- still competing in a pitching-machine format -- took to the field in Luray on July 12 for their first tournament of the summer.
Competing in the bronze division (teams were separated based on how long their players had been together, Curl said), the Diamondbacks took part in a 13-team field and survived a three-game marathon on July 12 for a successful first day. The Diamondbacks eventually fell to tournament champion Grottoes on the following day in their fifth game of the tournament, awarding the Diamondbacks a runner-up finish.
"It was good for them because they got to see how good kids at their age level can be," Curl said.
The Diamondbacks' next tournament is this weekend, as they will travel south again for the Elkton Summer Sandlot Tournament. Curl said the Diamondbacks will compete in a 12-team bracket and are guaranteed at least four games.
Curl said the team is designed to last well into the future, as no players will be cut from the team and each boy will remain on the roster for as long as they want to play. As a result, the Diamondbacks will simply bump up an age classification each year.
On Sept. 1, the Diamondbacks will begin competing as a 9U team, Curl said, at which point they'll begin to face live pitching.
"Baseball in Front Royal has been around for a long time," Curl said. "Other places around here are trying to take advantage of things like this and I'm trying to do the same thing."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD