With the Valley Baseball League canceling its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rockingham County Baseball League has a chance to take center stage this summer.
The RCBL announced last week that it will start playing games on June 27 with a 21-game regular season. With a lack of summer leagues, the RCBL is picking up some solid college players.
New Market head coach Nolan Potts said that his team and the league should be stronger than ever.
"The talent we have is going to be better than any year that I've been involved with it – across the board," Potts said. "As coaches we have like a contract spreadsheet. When we sign new players we get to see who they're bringing in. (We were looking at it and) we're like 'whoa, there's some big-time college names that we're seeing on there.' They would be playing in the Valley League or some in the Cape Cod League had they not been canceled. But since we're going to be the only show in town across the board, there's going to be teams that have players that they typically wouldn't get in normal years."
Potts said attendance hasn't been great for the Shockers in past years, but he thinks this year will be different across the entire league.
"... people are looking for an excuse to get out of their house and do something since they've been locked down for months," Potts said. "Baseball in the valley – that's one of the traditions that it's always had. So I think across the league we're going to get more people this year than we're going to get any other year, I would think, just because the Valley League's not going to be around."
One of the top players for New Market this season should be 2019 Sherando graduate Hunter Entsimnger, who is a rising sophomore at James Madison University.
Entsminger was a relief pitcher for JMU this past spring. He threw 9.1 innings and had nine strikeouts with a 1-0 record and a 6.75 ERA.
Potts said he's excited for what his team can do this season.
"Just going down the roster we've got an enormous amount of talent," Potts said. "Last year, I thought we had a pretty good team and we finished second in the league in the regular season. And this year, I think we have even more talent than we did last year."
Potts said the team had a batting practice on May 31 and a scrimmage on the road against the Montezuma Braves on June 6.
He said the scrimmage went as expected, considering the players hadn't seen live pitching or pitched in a live game since mid-March.
"A couple of them have thrown bullpens on the side just to try to keep their arms in shape," Potts said. "But there's nothing like facing live competition and the first couple innings of that scrimmage that we had – it wasn't pretty, I'll just say that."
Potts, a Handley graduate, has been in the league since 2014 and is in his second year coaching the Shockers. Potts is still listed as a player and a coach, but said he only plays if the team is short-handed. There are 28 players on the roster and 22 are either graduates of Shenandoah University or they will be attending SU in the fall.
"They're all buddies," Potts said of the Shenandoah connection. "They either all live together or they're texting each other constantly."
Potts said that everyone was excited for the scrimmage the team played.
"I don't know if I was more excited than them, but I was really excited just to be coaching third base and just to be back on the ball field," he said. "They were just happy to be around each other again. Typically, you tell them to go hard during (batting practice) and they're not excited about it. But they were just excited to be back on the ball field and be around each other again."
Potts said one challenge the Shockers will face, like every team in the league, is playing 21 games in a month.
"It's a lot of games in a short amount of time, especially for the pitchers," Potts said. "I think pitching's going to be the biggest key because everybody's had two or three months off. You're going to have four or five games a week. So just making sure the pitchers' arms are in shape and not overusing anybody too much. I think that's going to be a big deal, especially once we get started in a couple weeks."
The Shockers open their season on June 27, hosting the Elkton Blue Sox. Potts said he's looking forward to seeing what his team can do.
"I'm really excited," Potts said. "I like the group that we have. I like the fact that we have a lot of guys that can pitch. Probably over half our roster are listed as pitchers but then five or six of those guys can also hit and play the field when need be."