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Tom Sox games a great outing for area families

July 10,2016 14:08

Cheryl and Neil Schwandt of Palmyra have attended four games over the first two Tom Sox seasons. Their daughter, Tracy, lives within walking distance of the Charlottesville High School baseball field, making an inexpensive night of entertainment for ...and more »

Welcome to Valley League Baseball where families can attend a baseball game of competing collegiate players for an inexpensive evening of the nation’s past time.

You know you’re close to the action when a swing of a wooden bat connects with a hard-thrown baseball and the distinct sound tells you the batter has made contact and the ball – and sometimes the bat – is in play.

Such was the case June 25 when a Waynesboro General batter smacked an infield grounder and saw his bat splinter into two distinct pieces.

No one was hurt on the play and the baserunner was out but it made for an interesting sequence for the more than 1,000 fans in attendance at Charlottesville High School where the Tom Sox won for the first time in five tries.

The Charlottesville team has existed on paper just three years and on the field for two seasons.

Beginning with discussions in 2013, the parent VBL board approved the league’s newest entry to begin play last summer.

It was a perfect time for summer baseball in the college town where the University of Virginia had just won the NCAA Division I World Series.

Fans not wanting play to end began coming to watch the college players signed by the Tom Sox play a 20-game home schedule (and an additional 20 road games) at the revamped high school complex.

“When we started negotiating with the city (of Charlottesville) to use the high school field, there wasn’t a lot here,” Tom Sox director of operations Mike Paduano said. “We raised money and installed new bleachers, a press box and an indoor practice facility for the schools to use 10 months out of the year and we can use during the summer.”

The new amenities were a hit with fans though many bring chairs and sit along the third-base foul line or on the hill overlooking the ballpark.

The team has erected a large party tent on the hill and rent the facilities out to local businesses who have business events while the games are played.

During the Waynesboro game BB&T bank had an employee’s party that enjoyed good food, drink and a 5-3 Charlottesville victory.

The game attracts people of all ages.

In attendance last Saturday night were an elderly couple from Palmyra, in Fluvanna County, who drove more than 20 miles to watch the game.

“We came three times last year and tonight’s our first this season,” Neil Schwandt said.

It helps the couple’s daughter, Tracy, lives nearby the high school field.

“Close enough we can walk,” Cheryl Schwandt added.

Mr. Schwandt said he enjoys watching the games and thinks some of the VBL players might one day play for his favorite major league baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.

“We’re originally from Chicago,” he smiled.

Daughter Tracy said she enjoys coming to the games because it allows for an inexpensive night out that the entire family can enjoy.

“This is one of the few things around here a family can do together.

Another Fluvanna family – the McLaughlins – have lived outside Charlottesville the past two years but just learned of the team the previous week.

“We’re originally from Staunton and have seen many Braves games.” Father Neil said. “It’s a great location.”

The game even offered an international flair with three fellows from the Young African Leaders Initiative, in Washington, D.C., attending.

Local hosts Stephan Kostyo and Jessica Gephart brought their new friends out for an evening of baseball and while the two Zimbabweans (Tinashe Mutsonziwa and Abel Chemura) and South African Catherine Constantinides didn’t know the concept of the game, they still enjoyed watching it.

But as anyone with young children know, sometimes the best of entertainment isn’t what’s on the field but in the peripheral.

Six-year-old triplets Abby, Lucas and Zoey Downer enjoyed watching the antics of official team mascot Cosmos the Dog and sidekick PW Lewis.

The two costumed characters performed before, during and after the game much to the highlight of children and adults of all ages.

Cosmos has been around the sport for more than two decades, originally creating the character when he was the official mascot of the Colorado Rockies.

He moved to Charlottesville before the start of the 2015 season and continues to display his talents on and off the field as well as coordinating the team’s publicity with other civic organizations including area Little League and Babe Ruth organizations.

Players are selected to come to Charlottesville and the other VBL towns by Paduano and the other team’s management.

Considered not-for-profit organizations, volunteers run the teams. Players are housed in supporters’ homes for the summer and Paduano said all but one of the players resides in Charlottesville or Albemarle County.

“One player lives with one of our board members out in Barboursville,” Paduano said. “We’re fortunate to have the support close by.”

Players in the past worked part-time jobs during their summer schedule but with road games now over two hours away via a bus, that’s not realistic.

Host families provide food for the hungry players as well as sleeping facilities and many player and family become life-long friends.

One player – relief pitcher Caleb Ward (University of Richmond sophomore) had his family in attendance watching the game last Saturday night.

Paduano says when the team plays at home upwards of five or more families make the trek to Charlottesville to watch their sons play.

Ward’s mom and step-dad Crystal and Andre Jones along with four-year-old sister Jada and nine-month-old brother AJ came from Hampton to see Ward.

“We were surprised when we got here to see what a high school baseball field can look like,” Andre Jones said. “Caleb played at Phoebus High School and that field is nothing like this.”

Ward said this is his first year playing the sport in a league like what the VBL offers.

“I’m really enjoying it and it’s the first step in hopefully getting drafted and playing professionally,” Ward said.

Admission to the Tom Sox games is $10 for a carload. Most teams charge $5 per person. Tomorrow’s July 4 game will also include Waynesboro and fireworks will be provided after the nine-inning game.

“We’ll have between 4,000 and 6,000 in attendance that game so I’d recommend people come early and have a great time,” Paduano said.

Three VBL teams are within a 70 minute drive of Culpeper.

Bing Crosby Stadium, home of the Front Royal Cardinals is 54 minutes from downtown Culpeper while Charlottesville is 43.9 miles away. Road construction along U.S. Route 29 may slow down traffic for 7 p.m., weeknight games.

A third team, the New Market Rebels, is 72 minutes and a tad over 50 miles from Culpeper.

For more information on the Valley League, visit the website: http://www.valleyleaguebaseball.com where links to all 11 teams are available.

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