WOODSTOCK – College baseball players join the Valley Baseball League to sharpen their skills during the summer months before they return to school. Many players, if not all, have aspirations of playing pro ball. Woodstock’s Wyatt Belinda is among those, but he’s also spent his summer with the River Bandits preparing himself in another career field for that moment when his time on the diamond comes to an end.
For the last month and a half, Belinda has complemented his role as the Bandits’ everyday first baseman with an internship with a pair of local police departments in Woodstock and New Market.
When he’s not on the baseball field, or getting his necessary seven hours of sleep, he’s shadowing police officers while gaining first-hand experience in the law enforcement field. Balancing the responsibilities of both has left little time for much else for the Alexandria, Pennsylvania, native, but Belinda has embraced the grind.
“I feel like I’m really fortunate in the opportunity,” he said before the River Bandits’ home game against Waynesboro on Tuesday night. “I feel like there’s never time for me to sit down and stop moving but I really appreciate everything they’ve done. I’m just keeping at it.”
Belinda’s internship is the product of a conversation between his college coach, West Virginia University Institute of Technology’s Lawrence Nesselrodt, and River Bandits general manager Robert “Porky” Bowman that started around Sept. 1 of last year.
Bowman said Nesselrodt – who had coached in the Valley League with Waynesboro and Staunton in the past – reached out to him about a player who needed an internship for his criminal justice degree. Bowman, who served in the Woodstock Police Department for 30 years, was happy to oblige and said Tuesday that it “couldn’t have been a better fit” for Belinda and the WPD.
“I talked to (Belinda) a couple times on the phone, very polite young man and comes from a good family,” said Bowman, who added that Woodstock Police Chief Eric Reiley seized on the opportunity to provide Belinda with an internship “right away.”
“It’s just one of those, you could do it 10 times and not get the kind of kid that he is.”
Belinda, who splits his time weekly between Woodstock and New Market, said he’s been afforded pretty much the full treatment from Reiley and New Market Police Chief Chris Rinker. Belinda said he rides along with officers on patrol, has gotten to interact with suspects on calls, helps out on investigations and has gotten to sit in on court cases.
Belinda said he began the summer by doing his internship from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. before heading to the ball field, but he has since switched to the night shift and joins patrolling officers after games.
“I’m pretty much a shadow,” Belinda said. “I follow (the officers). I’m like right on their hip with everything they do. I’ve been really lucky to see exactly how they interact with people. I’ve learned how to talk to people, like in crisis, even investigations.
“I don’t know if I can go into much detail, but we’ve gone on a couple calls where I’ve gotten to interact with the suspects and stuff,” he added, “and I thought that was really neat.”
Belinda said he’s not allowed to wear a uniform, patches or a badge as part of his internship and instead typically dons a collared shirt, battle dress uniform or dress pants and a pair of Danner boots provided by the Woodstock police, but he is given a bulletproof vest during night patrols.
“People, they perceive me sometimes to be a cop but I’m really not,” Belinda said. “The cops have to tell them I’m an intern and stuff, but people have been pretty cool about it.”
Belinda said he’s had no trouble balancing the internship with baseball aside from some “wear and tear” earlier this summer.
He’s played in 33 of the River Bandits’ first 34 games and entered Thursday’s game at Covington batting .220 with eight RBIs, 14 runs scored and a team-high 19 walks. Belinda carried a five-game hitting streak into Thursday that raised his batting average from .195.
“It’s tougher hanging out with the guys (on the baseball team) but this is a time for me to really focus in on baseball and my career,” said Belinda, who batted .331 with four home runs and 38 RBIs as a junior last season at WVU Tech, an NAIA member. “So it’s just take it stride by stride. I don’t try to think too far ahead, and I think that’s what it’s really showing me.”
Belinda’s dedication to delving deeper into his post-baseball career path doesn’t mean he’s given up hope of continuing playing after his senior season at WVU Tech next spring. Playing professional baseball has always been and will remain a goal for Belinda, whose father, Stan Belinda, pitched for 12 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Pirates, Royals, Red Sox, Reds, Rockies and Braves.
“I’m gonna keep trying,” Belinda said of his pro ball aspirations. “I’m gonna take baseball as far as I can.”