Today marks the anniversary of one of my life’s great adventures. Six years ago today, a group of college ballplayers assembled at Rebel Park in New Market, Virginia and I was right there with them, asking questions, taking notes, and ultimately chronicling their season in Safe at Home: A Season in the Valley.
I could not have asked for a more colorful cast of characters, nor for a more interesting team to follow. Nor could I have asked for a better season about which to write. Even losing to eventual champion Haymarket in the semi-finals made for a better ending than had the Rebels won it all. After upsetting arch-rival Luray in the first round of the playoffs in exciting fashion, the loss to Haymarket revealed a certain nobility in the battered squad that would not have been revealed in victory.
Lucas Jones who served as the Rebels’ head coach is now the head coach at Patrick Henry Community College in Martinsville, Virginia. Married to his high school sweetheart Karla, he also “manages” two little ones: Gavin, age 2, and Hadley, age 8 months. He was strongly influenced by his experience that summer:
“I had a professor say all the time that life is about relationships, relationships, relationships. It does not hold truer than that summer. I learned a lot about how to coach but I learned more about how to love and treat people with understanding and compassion. Outside of the influence of my wonderful parents, family, and friends, the New Market experience showed me what it takes to be a great husband and father. I am ever so grateful for my time with everybody involved with the “family” that summer. It has made me into the family man I am today.”
Ryan Stauffer, a left-handed reliever credits the help of Coach Dan Rollins that summer for helping him earn a 2nd Team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference award as a starting pitcher in his senior season following his stint with the Rebels.
“I know for a fact my last year of Millersville baseball wouldn’t have been the same without my experiences in New Market. I had a good sophomore year which prompted my entry into a league as good as The Valley, but if you check my junior year stats, you’ll see I was a wreck going in to New Market. Coach Daniel Rollins worked side bullpen sessions during downtime that summer and completely turned me around. I ended up with a successful finish to the end of the New Market season, and rode that wave into my final year at Millersville.”
Stauffer also fondly recalls the “bullpen shenanigans” that occurred (fans of that season will remember the shark hats, for example) as well as his connection to the Lonas family with whom he lived.
Having worked at Richard Torovsky’s vineyard, he states that, “I’m forever more appreciative of the work that goes into a bottle of wine after working in the vineyards that summer. I never knew 8:00 am could be so hot and miserable!”
A meteorology major, he finished his undergraduate degree in May 2010 and completed his masters in the spring of 2012. Married to Leah Kirstein in April of 2012, Ryan is on track to complete his PhD in meteorology by the end of this year at which time he will seek a post-doctoral position with NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, MD.
For reliever Jake Guengerich, 2009 was merely the first of three summers with the New Market Rebels, making him one of the few three-year players in the team’s history. He married college sweetheart, Jordan Tickle, and they live in Tampa along with their dog, Chipper. (Jake is ever the Braves’ fan.) Jake took a position with Lockheed Martin upon graduating from Florida Southern College. Like Lucas and Ryan, his memories immediately turn to the people he got to know in New Market.
“I met a lot of great people and made friends I still talk to today. I also remember it as the beginning of a great relationship with my host family, Patricia Jones and her boys Brandon and Nate. I will be forever grateful for my first season there that led to 2 more great seasons that followed.”
Right-hander Jay Lively still says that the summer of 2009 was “the best summer I have ever had without a doubt.”
He adds, “Not having known anything about the Valley, I still felt like I was coming home to a place that wasn’t even familiar. And my teammates and coaches were all great guys with great personalities that made the whole season something enjoyable. The bullpen guys were especially great just from how much time we spent together out there behind left field. The post-game meals where we got to see other host families and recap the game were something I try not to take for granted. Lastly, the beautiful scenery that was the Valley is something I still recall. I will never forget the first full moon game we played at Rebel Park where it crept up from behind the mountain backdrop of the field. Truly an unforgettable experience.”
Jay is currently living in Washington, D.C. and works for Clark Construction. He graduated from George Washington University with a civil engineering degree.
It is not surprising to find that the memories involve not victories and losses, but friendships. It is the same with me. Even as names slip away and final scores become fuzzy, the camaraderie that was extended to me by the coaches and players will always remain fresh: the bus rides, shagging fly balls, talking over the game with Mo Weber at 2:00 a.m. . . . these are the true treasures for me of that wonderful, adventurous summer of 2009.
Best of luck to “my” Rebel team and to the 2015 team as well, who, coincidentally report today. To Lucas and Ryan and Jake and Jay and all the rest of the 2009 Rebels, I hope that in 2059 you can say to your grandchildren, “Did you know that Grandpa is in a book? I want you to read about one of the greatest times of my life.”