Cannons taking aim to play in Shenandoah Jct.

SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — What will the transplanted Charles Town Cannons accomplish in their first summer in Jefferson County?

[cleeng_content id="608589870" description="Read it now!" price="0.15" t="article"]When the baseball team moved here after decades in Luray, Va., one of the first things it did was to remove the concrete bleachers on both sides of the concession stand/press box at Jefferson High’s Sager Field. Those age-old seats were replaced by two sets of metal bleachers that will comfortably hold more people than before.

Also, the Cannons installed an irrigation system that is to help with field maintenance when the June/July heat comes and the annual lack of rain might otherwise cause problems.

The 44-game schedule given the Cannons by the Valley Baseball League calls for 22 home dates at Jefferson High and lighted Sager Field.

The majority of those home games will be against the other five teams in the North Division of the 12-team league.

Winchester, Front Royal, Strasburg, Woodstock and Aldie are those five teams that will be at Sager Field for all but six of the 22 home games.

Waldyvan Estrada is congratulated on a home run. Estrada will be playing for the Charles Town Cannons.

Waldyvan Estrada is congratulated on a home run. Estrada will be playing for the Charles Town Cannons.

The Aldie franchise was moved from Haymarket after the 2012 season and will play its games at John Champe High School.

The league’s South Division has New Market, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Staunton, Covington and Rockbridge.

Moving to Jefferson County from Luray encompasses more than just buying new uniforms and deciding whether the concession stand should include hamburgers and curly fries.

All of the players on the team’s large roster of college-age players have to be housed. Housed by “host families”. Not in motels. Not in motor homes.

Scores of volunteers from the county and surrounding area have to be corraled to carry out the many behind-the-scenes duties and game-night jobs that make such an operation go smoothly.

Finding workers to sell souvenirs, work in the concession stand, sell tickets, helping with 50/50 raffles, and ushering people to their seats will require educating the volunteers the team finds.

Even though it is a non-profit organization, the Cannons need several kinds of advertising and sponsorships to be successful. Every business, corporation or individual which help the team with contributions is a first-time endeavor.

Once the Cannons have found the needed host families for the players, rounded up the necessary volunteers and made sure the players will have arrived from their various four-year and two-year colleges, the team’s stated goal is “to build a community-based organization that represents the citizens of Charles Town, known throughout the Panhandle as blue collar, hard-working men and women.

“Each night at Sager Field will be an event with a family-oriented atmosphere catering to schools, groups, non-profit organizations, fans and friends alike. We hope to make your Valley Baseball League experience memorable,” concludes the team’s goal.

The novelty value of a first-year baseball team with young players will be significant and very important.

The cost of tickets seems affordable. Children 12 and under pay only $2. Senior citizens can see a Cannons’ game for $3. And adults pay $5.

Those working people who need to get home at a reasonable hour because the next day requires them to be on the job should find the 7 p.m. start time convenient for them.

Jefferson High is not too far away from nearly every part of the county west of the Shenandoah River and the travel time to the games shouldn’t be too taxing.

Whether the Cannons enjoy more than a “honeymoon” first year in Jefferson County depends almost entirely on the talents of their players.

With at least 10 other leagues spread across the country with the same wood-bat requirements and with rosters of players with remaining collegiate eligibility, just how talented will the Valley Baseball League players be?

The league does not have the number of starters from the Top 30 schools of the NCAA Division I ranks as some of the other summer leagues — most notably the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts that staffs its rosters with starters from College World Series teams and other schools that reached Regional or Super Regional tournaments.

Valley Baseball League teams have their rosters staffed with players from NCAA Division I, Division II, Division III, NAIA and assorted junior colleges and two-year community colleges.

In the league’s past history, the teams are nearly always competitive with few of them achieving 35-9 records or 9-35 records.

The most prominent Division I team supplying the Cannons with players is Oklahoma State of the Big 12 Conference. The Cowboys have three players listed on Charles Town’s roster. Alex Hackerott is a freshman pitcher with limited appearances but who has been successful. Neither catcher Brent Williams nor infielder Hayden Cronenbold has played at all this season.

Sam Houston State has three representatives. Alabama State has four roster spots. The University of Central Arkansas, Jacksonville University, Liberty, Lake Sumter CC, Neosho County CC and Florida International University all have two players on the roster.

Chris Payne is a Jefferson High graduate attending George Mason and has apperared in more games as a pitcher for the Patriots than any other hurler on the team.

Colleges with one player on Charles Town’s roster are Southeast Oklahoma State, Florida Southern, Furman, Arkansas State, Texas-Pan American, Missouri, Northeast Texas JC and Wheeling Jesuit.

A handful of the players haven’t played in any games this season. Others are not starters at their respective schools. Alabama State’s outfielders Junior Amion and Waldyvan Estrada have started every game. Jacksonville University first baseman Brady North batted .252 in his first 114 at-bats.

Alabama State infielder Emmanuel Marrero was hitting .304 through 36 games.

The only pitcher on the 15-player Charles Town staff with as many as nine starts this season is Michael Hennessey from Lake Sumter (South Carolina) Community College. His ERA was 2.93.

The Cannons don’t have any players from WVU, Marshall or Shepherd.

Charles Town’s season begins on Friday, May 31, with a home game against Strasburg. The next night, the Cannons will be at Sager field again for a game against Aldie.

In late July, the regular season ends and the playoffs to determine the league champion open with eight teams involved — the top four finishers in each division.

How talented will the Cannons be? And will the players be able to adjust to the high school lights they find at Sager Field?

Here come the Cannons. Here come the necessary volunteers, host families, and first-time-to-this-area teams from the other 11 cities and towns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

It’s going to be a summer of baseball firsts in Jefferson County.[/cleeng_content]

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