The Shenandoah Valley-Herald (Woodstock, VA)
Home away from home
Inspired out-of-town fan pens book on New Market’s ’09 season
By John Galle, Sports Editor - The Shenandoah Valley-Herald - December 25, 2009
NEW MARKET — All it took was an old-fashioned sandwich sign to draw Austin Gisriel to his first Valley Baseball League game in 2002. The summer vacationer from Williamsport, Md. needed nothing more than the red-lettering of the advertisement, listing when to show up for the New Market Rebels contest.
Strolling up to the ball park for the first time, Gisriel saw an older man shuffling through his trunk for baseball uniforms. He quickly decided to ask the man about the VBL and the team he was about to see play. As fate would have it, Gisriel’s first Rebels encounter was with none other than “Legend of the Valley” Mo Weber, who will be entering his 16th season as an assistant coach this summer.
Seven years after that memorable first game, the magic of Rebel Park inspired Gisriel to take his passion for the Valley League’s community-owned team and put it in a book.
“He gets the feeling of temperament of what’s going on,” Weber said of Gisriel. “The book will illustrate that ... He’s a real fan.”
Titled “Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley,” the book to be published by the Augusta Free Press chronicles the story of New Market’s 2009 season, beginning with the end of 2008’s season.
“Management is one-third of the book,” explained Gisriel. “I wanted people to get a real feel for it. There’s a lot of work and love that goes on [behind the scenes].”
“The last two-thirds are about the season and the playoffs,” he added.
Already a passionate fan, Gisriel immersed himself further into the Valley League experience to enhance his writing. He traveled with the team. He chatted with several players and their host families. He even hung out with the bull pen in uniform one night for a specific chapter on Fourth of July weekend, donning his old high school number.
Of course, he had to get permission from pitching coach Daniel Rollins, who was more than happy to oblige.
“I’d like to see what goes on out there,” Rollins told Gisriel.
The Rebels organization as a whole was more than hospitable to Gisriel’s cause. Team president Bruce Alger had been wishing for an opportunity like this for years, waiting for the right person to come along.
“I saw him more and more, and he did a story in Virginia Living Magazine [on the VBL],” Alger said, referencing the August 2008 article. “I thought he did a really nice job on that.”
“What had more of an effect on me than his writing skills was his heart,” Alger added. “He comes really close to matching my intensity for love of the game.”
The purity of the game — featuring college players looking for their big break in being drafted into the majors — may have inspired Gisriel the most, reminding him of how America’s national pastime used to be.
“There are no distractions,” he said of his New Market experiences. “In that sense, it’s pure baseball. The view offered by Rebel Park, along with the home fans, nurtured that environment.
“The neighborliness of the crowd, the ballpark atmosphere — I’d rather be here than Camden Yards,” Gisriel said. “It’s more to me than just a ball game, and yet, it’s the ball game that’s the feature.”
“The old Baltimore stadium used to look out on to pine trees,” he recalled. “You were just in the neighborhood.”
Now, the author feels at home away from home.
The idea for the book floated in the air for a brief time upon first mention, but it became an official project in the blink of an eye.
"We were over at the Southern Kitchen one day,” Alger explained. “We didn’t go there to talk about a book. We were just two Rebel fans having lunch.”
They finished their meal with a tentative agreement to write the book.
Gisriel gave fans and Alger an exclusive first taste of the book on Dec. 12 at the Rebels’ Christmas party, sharing a few pages from a chapter on the team’s playoff series-clinching win at Luray. He plans to return to New Market on Jan. 16 for the “official unveiling,” which will entail a book signing at the town library at 2 p.m.
“It is a rarity,” Alger said of the opportunity to feature the Rebels in a book. “For someone so far away to just be vacationing in New Market from Maryland is one thing. But to be walking down the street, seeing a sandwich board advertising the game, coming to the game and falling in love ... it doesn’t happen.”
“But I started that way too — as a fan,” Alger continued. “I didn’t join the organization as a president. In 1965, I started as a wide-eyed teenage kid that just absolutely loved the game of baseball. I see the same thing happening.”
Contact John Galle at 459-4078, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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