June 1, 2023

Baseball Passion in Small Town America

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

We sometimes forget in this ESPN Age the great passion that baseball once inspired on the most local of levels.  Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has had a long love for baseball and there are two towns, some 20 miles or so apart that are perfect examples.  New Market, which saw the last Confederate victory in the Shenandoah, and Harrisonburg, home to James Madison University, are still rivals in the Valley Baseball League, a summer, collegiate, wooden bat league.  The rivalry was never more intense, however, than on July 4th, 1923 when the teams from the respective towns met for a home and home double-header.

That day, some 500 cars overflowed the streets around the field and encircled New Market’s diamond itself.  According to the July 5, 1923 Shenandoah Valley, many fans had come from Harrisonburg; and they were “peeved” by a 7-3 loss that their team had suffered to New Market that morning at home.  New Market was leading the afternoon contest and had the bases loaded with none out in the 8th inning when a Harrisonburg fan “flashed with a hand mirror the sun’s blazing light into the face of a man at the bat at the time and caused him to strike out.  Besides two other batters similarly treated before the offender was caught in his nasty acts and removed from the field.”  This apparently touched off a “melee” in which New Market Police “Sergeant G. A. Tidler was hit with a bottle and several others were injured.  New Market’s mayor, Thomas A. Andrick, fined two offenders (one the grand sum of $25.00) and issued warrants for the arrest of several others.

Interestingly enough, the Sergeant Tidler mentioned in the account is a relative of New Market Rebels President and General Manager Bruce Alger.  The Rebels are New Market’s entry in the Valley League.

It is still on these dusty fields in small towns where passion for the game is fierce.  The Rebels sometimes draw up to 800 fans a night when playing rivals Luray or Woodstock.  If that doesn’t seem like much, consider that the town’s population is only 1,800.  The Rebels have had their share of talent over the years from John Kruk back in 1981 to Brett Gardner in 2002.  Oakland A’s reliever Brad Ziegler pitched for the 2000 Rebels, the year a brawl ensued when a disputed call resulted in a shouting match between the managers which degenerated into an on-field melee.  Fans booed and hissed the opposing manager who cursed his exit, “and no doubt the fans” after being ejected.  New Market’s opponent that night?  Harrisonburg, of course.

Tonight (Thursday May 19th) at 6:00 p.m. EST Baseball in the Valley, will debut on the Seamheads National Podcasting Network. BitV brings you the latest on the Valley Baseball League including profiles and analysis, as well as an Alumni Spotlight which shines this week on Delmarva Shorebird Aaron Swenson who starred for the Staunton Braves in 2009. Please join us! (Questions about the VBL or BitV may be directed to austin@seamheads.com

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