NEW MARKET— One little-known baseball team is facing an uncertain future as expenses pile up and community support wanes.
Lisa Jones-Hart, president of the New Market Shockers, told Town Council members last month that a historic and important piece of the community is facing its final season in 2019. For some, the last chance to play the game they love and for others, a training ground for budding stars, the Shockers, Jones-Hart said, are too valuable to lose.
Some council members said they did not know a second team played at Rebel Park, splitting costs with the Rebels and Stonewall Jackson High School.
Boys and men playing for the Shockers range from high schoolers playing summer ball to former college players and full-time workers that don’t want to give up the game.
“ If this team isn’t here, those players that are seniored, that don’t qualify for Valley League, they don’t have a place to play,” Jones-Hart said. “Those high school kids, they have no place to get that veteran experience.”
For years, Jones-Hart said, the Shockers have gotten by on the backs of fundraisers — spaghetti dinners, 50-50 raffles and sandwich sales — as well as advertising in the program handed out at the gates.
“Typically we raise enough to pay for the season,” Jones-Hart said. “But we’re finding it’s harder and harder to raise that money.”
Last season the Shockers spent more than $11,000 after bringing in only $7,000. Umpires cost around $3,000 for a season. The lights and groundskeeping are split with the Rebels but budgets start to stretch when unexpected costs, such as the green paint all around the park, rise up.
Where the Rebels turn a profit on ads on the outfield fences — that the Shockers helped paint — the Shockers don’t see any of that return. Businesses, Jones-Hart said, make space in their budgets for those ads on the wall but don’t have anything left when the Shockers come offering space in their program.
“It would be different if we had fans coming,” Jones-Hart said. “But we don’t get that support from the community.”
Support from the town and its residents might be waning but players and coaches like Zach Stiles have been traveling from Winchester for years to keep the team growing.
Stiles retired last year, hanging up his cleats after playing more than 300 consecutive games. He will return in 2019 as an assistant manager for the Shockers.
“There’s not a lot, other than the Valley League, there’s not a baseball league in Winchester,” Stiles said. “It gives players from this area a chance to hone their skills.”
Stiles said New Market gave him a chance to keep playing when his college days were done. While he wasn’t playing with an eye on the major leagues, his experience on and off the field rubbed off on players such as Colton Harlow who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies last year.
Stiles said sharing a venue with the Rebels has been a blessing and a curse for the Shockers. The Rebels are popular in town, Stiles said, giving New Market a baseball town feel but the Shockers live in the Rebels shadow, making it difficult to attract new fans.
“It really is a chance to give the community a chance to watch some baseball if the Rebels are out of town,” Stiles said. “You have a mix of guys that want to continue playing, improve their college skills…guys that are getting a chance to play the game they love.”
More than player opportunities, Jones-Hart said, she wants to keep the Shockers alive to give the community a place to get out of their homes and enjoy the town.
“This is a place where you can come and you can sit in the stands and your kid can run down the first base line to get a foul ball and you don’t have to worry about somebody snatching ‘em,” Jones-Hart said. “There’s not many places like that anymore.”
In better days, concessions helped cover some of the costs for a season, Jones-Hart said. Time has taken its toll on the current concessions stand which has no running water or ventilation and whose floor is rotting away. The last couple of years, she said, the team has taken a hit on concessions.
Jones-Hart said she is hoping the town will help the Shockers build a new concession stand, adding value to property the town already owns.
Improved concessions, more merchandise and affordable games — free entry in a perfect world, Jones-Hart said — would open Shockers games to be a place for families to bond with each other and their community at large.
“If we get the crowd, we can get the sponsorships then we can secure the future,” she said. “If we get the concession stand, we can open up more sales, sell merchandise. We can look like we belong here.”