VHSCA all-star baseball game returning to Valley

The Virginia High School Coaches Association’s annual all-star baseball game will return to the Shenandoah Valley for the first time in three decades.

This year’s edition, officially titled the VHSCA 2017 Red-Blue All-Star Baseball Game, will take place at James Madison University’s Eagle Field at 7 p.m. Monday, marking the first time the event has been held in the Valley in “well over 30 years,” according to VHSCA Baseball Director Jeff Smoot.

Smoot, the former longtime varsity baseball coach at Strasburg High School, said the inaugural VHSCA all-star baseball game was played in Harrisonburg in 1976. The game was held at Liberty University in Lynchburg for the last three years after taking place in Hampton Roads for about 20 years, he said.

“I think Harrisonburg will be a good place for us to play the game. It’s a very baseball-oriented community,” Smoot said of an area that fields teams in the Valley Baseball League and Rockingham County Baseball League.

“It’s just an area that I think really holds baseball in high regard, and I think it’s something that’ll be well received by that area. Coach (Marlin) Ikenberry at JMU, he was excited to have us there and I think worked diligently to make things happen so that we could come in there. We, meaning the coaches association, I mean we’re excited to come there. We think it’s gonna be a great place for us to hold the game.”

This year’s location switch is the latest in a string of recent changes to the game. After what was traditionally held as an East vs. West event, Smoot said the VHSCA dropped that format in recent years and instead began placing all of the selected players into a collective pool before sorting them into two teams. The VHSCA renamed the game Red vs. Blue this year to reflect that change.

Smoot added that the baseball game – one of a variety of VHSCA all-star games held for seniors in a handful of different high school sports – is no longer being held in conjunction with the association’s summer baseball clinic.

“The game had gotten to where all that was happening was the players were coming in the day of the game and playing and going home. And that’s not how the baseball coaches that are in the VHSCA wanted it played,” said Smoot, who estimated that he’s been the VHSCA’s baseball director for about eight years. “We wanted the game to be a little more special for the participants, where they could come in the day before, spend the night, we could do some things with them, they could practice a few times and make it a little more of an event rather than just a game.”

In order to do that, Smoot said, the VHSCA needed to secure a sponsorship even after reaching an agreement with JMU to use the school’s baseball facilities and housing. The association found financial support through a partnership with Hall of Fame Sports in Bridgewater.

“Quite frankly we couldn’t have done it without them,” Smoot said.

This year’s all-star game, according to final rosters released Monday, consists of 36 players representing 30 different schools across the Virginia High School League’s six classifications. Smoot said the all-star game participants are first nominated by their high school coaches and are ultimately chosen to compete in the game by the coaches of the two all-star teams during a selection meeting.

Sherando High School outfielder/pitcher Adam Miller was the local area’s lone representative listed on the original all-star rosters released on May 9 but did not appear on the updated list. Miller suffered a hand injury during a game on May 30.

The 2016-17 Gatorade Virginia Baseball Player of the Year, Halifax County’s Andrew Abbott, will compete for the Red team.  Smoot said past participants of the VHSCA all-star game include Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander (Goochland), former Detroit Tiger Brandon Inge (Brookville) and Los Angeles Dodgers utility man Chris Taylor (Frank W. Cox).

“We’ve had some really, really good players come through and play in it,” he said.

Smoot said Ray Heatwole, the former longtime baseball coach at Turner Ashby High School and the man responsible for organizing the first VHSCA baseball all-star game, will throw out the game’s first pitch on Monday.

If You Go

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: James Madison University’s Eagle Field

Admission: $7 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-12 and free to children 5 and under.