Ward is new manager of River Bandits

Kyle Ward has seen two sides of the Valley Baseball League, one as a player with New Market in 2012 and another as an assistant coach with Aldie this past summer. Now Ward will get the chance to see the league from a third perspective.

Ward will be the new manager of the Woodstock River Bandits, the team announced on Tuesday. Ward replaces Phil Betterly, who has taken over a full-time assistant position at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee.

“I don’t think too many people have had an opportunity to do all three feats like that, so I’ve kind of gotten to see it from a different perspective every single time and it’s gonna be a fun summer,” Ward said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.

“I just felt that I kind of got the experience from an assistant standpoint and just kind of also wanted to get my name out there with the networking and coaching,” he added. “I just felt like it was time to see what I can do as a head coach. I’m just thankful for the opportunity that Woodstock’s giving me.”

Ward, who serves as the pitching coach for Florence-Darlington Technical College, a junior college in South Carolina, coached in that same capacity in the VBL with Aldie in 2015. The Senators, who will not field a team in 2016, went 21-21 in the regular season and reached the playoffs this past summer.

Robert “Porky” Bowman, the general manager for the River Bandits, said Ward came highly recommended and is already broadening Woodstock’s recruiting reach.

“We had a good report from (New Market president) Bruce Alger and we heard nothing but high praise from Bernie Schaffler, the general manager for Aldie’s team,” Bowman said, “so he just seemed like he’d be the best fit.”

Ward said he’s remained drawn in by the Valley League by the strong community support he observed as a player and a coach, and both Bowman and Ward said there were similarities between the Aldie and Woodstock franchises in terms of how they operate.

“One thing that Porky said and I really liked is he said between the lines it’s me, outside of the lines it’s him,” Ward said. “What he meant by that – and it’s the same thing we ran with Aldie – between the lines, any game decision, any choice I make with putting the lineup together, he’ll stand behind me 100 percent. That’s the same thing that I saw with Aldie that they did with (manager) Eric Lemley.”

Though the start of the 2016 Valley League season is still eight months away, Ward said he already has a general idea of how he wants the River Bandits to look next summer.

“I’m still building, still trying to get some guys but I’m trying to build a team that, one, we’re gonna be quick and we’re gonna be the dirtiest team to leave each game,” Ward said. “I just want a bunch of ballplayers who are gonna get after it for two and a half, three hours and for six, seven nights a week they’re just gonna be the dirtiest team after every single game. If we can do that we should be able to win more than we lose.”

This past summer, Woodstock finished the regular season with a record of 21-22 and used a late-season push to reach the VBL North Division playoffs, where the Bandits fell in the opening round to Front Royal.

Betterly, who coached the River Bandits for four seasons, led Woodstock to three playoff appearances as well as a North Division regular-season championship in 2013.

“I’m excited for him,” Bowman said of Betterly. “We had a good run.”

Ward will be just one of several new faces throughout the area’s Valley League teams next summer. Front Royal announced in late August that Victor Gomez will be the Cardinals’ new manager in 2016, while Strasburg is searching for a replacement for Stephanos Stroop, who led the Express to their first Valley League championship in 2015 and was named the league’s coach of the year.

Gomez, who replaces two-year Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf, was a standout at Marshall University, where he set multiple school records including career home runs, RBIs, hits and doubles before graduating in 2011. Gomez, a Miami native, also played summer baseball in various leagues, including the Cape Cod, and was a catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization for a brief time. Gomez is an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Miami Dade Community College.

In other VBL news, the league announced Tuesday that the Charles Town Cannons will move to Purcellville for the 2016 season.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com