Wooden bats. College teammates still playing on the same team. Most of the players in their early 20s. But some past 35 continuing to enjoy organized baseball played in the evenings after work.
It’s the decades-old Blue Ridge Wooden Bat League. With teams in Purcellville, Hagerstown, Boonsboro, Martinsburg, and Brunswick. Since Brunswick has two teams this season there are six teams in pursuit of the 2012 league championship.
Where the Blue Ridge circuit was once known as the Franklin County (Pa.) Adult League, those days are now far in the past.
There once was a league that had as many as a dozen teams. But those were the days when baseball was in nearly everybody’s blood; the days when the Greencastle A’s and the Hagerstown Braves would play before a crowd of 250 fans at the Jerome King playground in Greencastle; or the Chambersburg Maroons where at Henicle Field for a night game against Fayetteville or Marion.
The covered grandstand at the Jerome King playground was built in 1922 and its baseball field still had the feel of a town meeting grounds when Reno Powell’s Braves played against Whitey Barkdoll and the hometown favorite A’s.
Roxbury and Edenville fielded less successful teams. The Waynesboro Villagers tried to stake their claim. Every so often Clear Spring (Md.) had a team and there would be a second team in Hagerstown. St. Thomas (Pa.) would try its luck against the usual twin giants of the league — Greencastle and Hagerstown.
When Greencastle and Hagerstown continued to monopolize the championships through the many years, even Chambersburg, a league member for over 80 years, dropped out.
Today, the league is still alive if not always thriving.
In the past decade, teams from Jefferson (Md.), Frederick, Waynesboro, and even Greencastle have faltered one by one and lasted only a year or two.
The 2012 Blue Ridge schedule has games for six teams, including a first-year entry in the Loudoun Rangers, who play their home games at venerable Fireman’s Field in Purcellville. Fireman’s Field has hosted night games under its lights since the 1950s.
The Brunswick Orioles have won nine of the past 10 league championships. But after nearly four weeks of games this season Coach Roger Dawson’s team was 4-6 and in danger of losing contact with the Boonsboro Pirates, owners of a 9-1 league record.
Boonsboro plays its home games at the new baseball facility at the St. James School outside Hagerstown. The Braves continue on in Powell’s memory and play home games at Williamsport High.
The Brunswick Orioles and Brunswick Express share the field at Brunswick High and the Martinsburg Blue Sox are at P. O. Faulkner Park when at home.
League-leading Boonsboro has a distinct West Virginia flavor. Players that once were Jefferson Cougars or Shepherd Rams make up most of the Pirate roster.
Steve Kozak was Boonsboro’s winning pitcher on opening day against the Blue Sox. The left-handed Kozak, once a pitcher for Jefferson High and later Shepherd, bested Martinsburg and its pitcher, Tanner Everton (Jefferson High and Potomac State), 3-1.
Former Shepherd players listed on the Boonsboro roster in addition to Kozak are Justin Dailey, Nicky Brown, Tyler Beard, Josh Bowers, Brandon Armentrout, Matt Noll, Travis Sluger, Sean Wiles, Cameron Shifler, and Matt Ridenour. Josh Simons played for Jefferson High.
The Blue Ridge schedule had its first games in late May and completes the regular season about July 17. A playoff format calls for the top four teams to eventually decide the 2012 league champion.
The Blue Ridge champion will qualify for national attention when it enters a Mid-Atlantic tournament that sends its winner to a national championship tournament played around the Labor Day holiday.
Blue Ridge baseball has lived for over 80 years. The circuit no longer has any teams from Franklin County. But the will to win hasn’t changed much, if at all.
Reno and Whitey would still enjoy the games and the fact that it’s baseball played near their backyards by faces they’d followed from Little League through high school and college.
And this season the one-time Shepherd players in Boonsboro have taken the lead and kept it.