Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA)
Little Rebs Atop VBL - New Market Relies On Small-College Players - And It's Working
JOE LEMIRE, Daily News-Record. June 27, 2006, Sports Section
NEW MARKET - During the New Market Rebels' first team meeting, coach Blaine Brown asked all Division I players who were not freshmen to stand up.No one did.
The Rebels might be the ragtag bunch of the Valley League, relying on standouts from Division II, Division III and NAIA schools rather than traditional Division I powerhouses, but thanks to a seven-game winning streak, they also boast the NCAA-sanctioned baseball league's best record at 14-4.
"I think that kind of set the tone," catcher Gerard Haran said of the first meeting. "We all realized that we are the proverbial big fish in a small pond [during the college season]. We're the best ballplayers no one's ever heard of. That helped us focus a lot."
Only five of the 27 players listed on New Market's roster are from Division I schools. While freshmen always have something to prove, even the upperclassmen on this team do.
The Rebels have succeeded, in part, by doing the little things. They lead the VBL in stolen bases (46 in 50 attempts), have committed the fewest errors (16), have walked the fewest opposing batters (48) and have sacrificed 11 times.
Brown and team president Bruce Alger have purposefully assembled a club of hungry, hustling players who mesh with this quiet, Civil War-flavored town on Valley Pike, also known as U.S. 11.
"Part of that goes into my recruiting philosophy because I think for a kid to come here and do well, he's got to be a New Market type of kid," Brown said. "New Market is a small town, you know, that just appreciates good, hard-nosed baseball. You get some small-school kids in here, and they come in with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder."
Haran might be the prototype Rebel. He collected Division III Player of the Year honors after a junior season at the College of New Jersey in which he batted .429 with 64 runs scored, 21 doubles, 14 home runs, 64 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .859 and an on-base percentage of .559.
A veteran of the New England Collegiate Baseball League last summer, Haran initially turned down Brown's offer to play for the Rebels but recanted that decision when he learned that his best friend from childhood, Dan Zeffiro (Kean University in New Jersey), would be going to New Market, too.
"I'm not saying that there is, but if there is a chip on my shoulder, it's that I was the Division III Player of the Year and I didn't get drafted," the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Haran said. "It's that [Erskine College's] Shelton [Cisson] had 110 hits, and he didn't get drafted. If there is a chip on the shoulder, it's more toward the scouts."
If any professional scouts have been watching this summer, they likely have been impressed with what they've seen of Haran. He is batting .270 and leads the Rebels with three home runs (tied), 12 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
What's been even more impressive to Brown has been Haran's style of play.
"He has kind of taken on somewhat of a leadership role this season just because of the way he plays so hard and is so intense," Brown said. "He kind of inspires some of the other players to play that hard."
It's been a perfect match of players and town. Though New Market has a population of just 1,637 (according to the 2000 census), the town loves its baseball. Brown estimating daily crowds between 600 and 700. Haran's hometown of Matawan, N.J., isn't all that much bigger (8,910), but he was born in Brooklyn and grew up less than a 40-mile drive from Times Square, so he's had to make an adjustment to the Shenandoah Valley.
"This is small. This is small," said Haran, repeating himself for effect. "The scenery is real nice, you know, but [I'm] getting used to the sights, the sounds and the smells of rural Virginia. ... It's a different type of lifestyle down here, for sure."
Though Brown's playing pedigree was at an NAIA school - the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas - he spent this spring as an assistant coach at Maryland. The Terrapins are somewhat of a have-not as far as the Atlantic Coast Conference goes, but they're still in one of the best baseball leagues in the country, making Brown's spring season and summer season rather incongruous.
The ACC - like the Valley League - is stocked with big-time college players, while the Rebels make do with lesser lights.
"I mean, every week you're seeing top draft picks on the mound and at the plate [in the ACC]," he said. "But these kids, I don't know. I guess I never looked at it like that. It is ironic that I'm on one side of the fence [at Maryland], yet here I'm on the other side of the fence."
Brown's players may be of a lesser profile than guys from Arizona, Louisiana State or Miami, but they have been no less effective. Haran homered off LSU's Nolan Cain of Luray this season, and New Market's Mark Brackman of William Jewell College, an NAIA school, has yet to allow a run - earned or otherwise - in 20 1/3 innings against players from all levels of college ball. The 6-foot-7 right-hander's performance simply supports Brown's point.
"They come in here with something to prove because, honestly, every time we go out we're facing teams that have just a ton of talent," Brown said. "It's not that these kids aren't as talented, it's just they don't have the opportunity to play against Miami, Florida State or the SEC schools. They're motivated to prove themselves."
Copyright © 2006, Byrd Newspapers, All Rights Reserved.
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