FRONT ROYAL – The Front Royal Cardinals have a long and tough road ahead of them.
Counting this week’s games, the Valley Baseball League squad has to play 20 games in 19 days. The Cardinals played a doubleheader on Monday, the day after the league’s All-Star game, and then played another one on Wednesday. They will also play a doubleheader next week and have only one off day the rest of the regular season.
“The season right now is very difficult,” Front Royal head coach Zeke Mitchem said on Tuesday afternoon. “We’re past the halfway point; we’re past the All-Star break. There’s been some roster changes that are taking place as we speak. It’s very difficult. I feel like the stretch of games post-All-Star break is borderline inappropriate for us to be quite honest. It’s almost too much to ask for the roster that we have. And I think we’re going to find out where we stand in the next three-to-six days.”
Mitchem said the team’s 30-player roster is down to around 23 or 24 and he is still trying to find new players to join the team, but it’s difficult at this point in the season. As is the case with most teams this time of year, some players have left the team for a variety of reasons, and some have been injured.
“It’s been a non-stop thing,” Mitchem said of trying to find new players. “The coaches, the management group, everybody’s been beating down doors ringing phones, e-mailing. It’s that time of year. …We’re beating the bushes trying to find more guys and try to finish this summer as well as we can.”
Mitchem said it’s the combination of losing players and having so many games to make up that makes the rest of Front Royal’s schedule a very tough task. The Cardinals went eight days without playing due to the weather in June and Mitchem said it’s catching up with them now.
“It’s not the guys’ fault. It’s not the club’s fault. It’s honestly not the coaches’ fault, but we lost eight days in June to weather,” he said. “We’ve fought that as a separate battle, but now it’s put us in a predicament because then the league wants us to play all these games. Post All-Star break we have 20 games in less than 20 days. That’s a difficult thing to ask an 18-22-year-old to do because they don’t even do that in professional baseball.”
The regular season, which is 42 games long, is scheduled to end on July 26 and the Cardinals still have 14 games left to play. Wednesday, July 18 is the team’s only scheduled day off for the rest of the regular season. The playoffs will begin as soon as the regular season ends.
Mitchem said he’s worried that he will soon have to play players out of their usual position.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I hurt people,” Mitchem said. “I don’t want to hurt people. I don’t want to hurt players. I don’t want to make it a mockery and have guys throwing that don’t pitch. I don’t want to have guys playing positions that they’ve never played before, potentially harming them, and we’re really, really close to that right now. We’re really, really close to that threshold where now we’ve went overboard.”
Mitchem said that he understands that the league needs to play a certain amount of games to keep going, but the players need to be thought about as well.
“I understand everybody needs a game, everybody needs money to keep things afloat and all that kind of thing, but there’s also a fine line between like I said putting people in potential harm,” he said. “I think there should be more dialogue and communication from the league to help protect some of these guys because you just can’t prepare for that. You can’t prepare for this number of games whenever the schedule’s changed so dramatically due to the rain.”
Front Royal will play nine games in seven days this week. They are not the only team with a lot of games remaining. Woodstock has 15 games left, while most of the league has 14 remaining. Harrisonburg and Waynesboro have each played the most and have 12 games left in the regular season.
Despite the tough schedule, the Cardinals have a three-game lead in the North Division with a 19-9 record entering Thursday’s games.
Mitchem said he’s been very pleased with his team this year.
“I’m delighted with the guys and how they’ve performed on all sides of the ball pitching, defense, offense,” he said. “I’m delighted with the way they’ve performed and improved their game because they’ve definitely given everything they have for sure.”