CHARLES TOWN – For John Lowery Jr., Valley League baseball has been a part of summer for most of his life, but now that there’s a team right in his hometown, it’s a whole new ball game.
With the league’s newest team, the Charles Town Cannons, poised to launch Season Two Friday at Sager Field in Shenandoah Junction, the 44-year-old Jefferson High teacher can’t wait to be back in the stands with his family.
“To be able to sit and watch high-quality baseball – it’s the most relaxing thing in the world,” Lowery said.
All the teams opposing the Cannons are familiar to Lowery. Starting in 1979 when his dad John Lowery became an assistant coach to the league’s team in Winchester, Va., Lowery Jr. spent time on the road traveling with players to games throughout the Shenandoah Valley, shagging balls at Royals games, even playing catch in the dugout with players.
Then the summer before his senior year in college, he suited up for the Royals and years later helped coach the team alongside his dad. Now both Lowerys serve on the board of directors for the Cannons, the first West Virginia team ever in the Valley League.
To welcome the Cannons back to Charles Town, the city has planned a free kickoff picnic Thursday at Jefferson Memorial Park where the public will have a chance to meet this year’s team.
The opportunity to connect with rising young baseball stars is a big part of the fun of Valley League games, Lowery Jr. explains. “I have so many memories of interacting with players from Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia Southern,” he said. “Getting to know those players and seeing how they played and prepared for games – it helped to instill in me the dream of one day playing ball in college.”
He went onto pitch at the University of Minnesota and earn a spot in the coveted summer Cape Cod League before landing a coaching job at Indiana’s Ball State and then spending seven years as head baseball coach at Martinsburg High, including the 2009 season when his Bulldogs won the state title. He’s now on the teaching staff at Jefferson High.
Friday night’s game at 7 p.m. pits the Cannons against the Winchester Royals.
Shepherd University’s Paul Hvozdovic will serve as the Cannons’ pitching coach as he awaits next week’s Major League draft. He finished the season with an 11-1 record and an ERA of 1.80.
Hvozdovic’s staff will be led by Cannons ace from last season, Adam Parks, who will be moved to the closer’s role. Starters will include Austin Stephens (South Alabama), Trevor Otey (Hampden-Sydney), Blake Windfey and Karl Craigie from Ranger Community College.
Position Players include catchers Ryan Akins (Bersa College) and Greg Brodzinski (Barry University). Matt Gandy from Chapman University returns behind the plate for the cannons as well.
The infield is solid up the middle with shortstop Steve Kerr (Florida Atlantic) and second baseman Chris Townsend (Central Arkansas).
Others on the roster: Justin Esquerra (Siena), Charlie Dal (Volunteer State), Andrew Yacyk (Liberty), Speedy Hooty Harris (Emporia State), Billy Endris (Florida Atlantic), Bryant Munzo (Bethune Cookman), Cody Hoffner.
Austin Bream, whose father Sid Bream played in the majors for 12 years, also will be a Cannon this summer. The younger Bream is an outfielder/first baseman.
Another Cannon is pitcher Forrest Arnold from Coker College. At 6-foot-10, Arnold will be the second-tallest player in Valley League History.
Other pitchers include Austin Ray (Sam Houston State), Jean Acevedo (Tabor College), Trey Jones (EMU), Jared Jordan (Texas A&M) , Jeremy Mansur (Neoshe CC) and Jake Anthony (Georgia).
Clayton Payne (Daytona State), Andrew Mulato (Chapman) and Zach Zyburt (Lee) round out the Cannons Roster.
Many local businesses have signed on to sponsor the Cannons’ 22 home games, including Glory Days, Moose Lodge No. 948, West Virginia University Healthcare, Aaron’s Rents & Sales, Guy’s Buick, United Bank, Kable Team Realty, American Public University, the Jefferson County Convention Visitors Bureau, the Bank of Charles Town, Gold’s Gym, Chick-Fil-A, City National Bank, River Riders and Millcreek Farm.