Despite COVID-19, JMU baseball team members participated in the Rockingham County Baseball League (RCBL) throughout the summer. Placed on multiple different teams, the Dukes were able to play after having only 16 games in the spring season.
Following the closing of the 2020 spring season, players and coaches were unsure of what was next. Many players looked to the RCBL as a potential option, especially after the Valley Baseball League canceled its season in April.
The Rockingham County Baseball League continues to play with safety protocols through the coronavirus pandemic, bringing normalcy to the summer.
“It was definitely a weird gap of time,” senior pitcher Justin Showalter said. “There wasn’t much going on, but I think I attacked it and took advantage of that time to get better in any way I could. That was really all that was there, was to keep working, throwing and waiting for what was coming next.”
A total of eight players from the JMU roster chose to compete in the RCBL, which wrapped up its season on Aug. 25. Four of the eight competed on the same team — the Broadway Bruins — and won the championship. The team won in a four-game sweep during a best-of-seven series against the New Market Shockers, marking the team’s first championship since 1938.
Many players choose to participate in summer baseball leagues for a variety of reasons. Some play to gain experience prior to their collegiate debut, others play to perfect their craft before the new season and many choose to play as a means of preparation in becoming a potential draft pick for the MLB. However, players will agree that summer baseball is mostly about being able to enjoy playing in a different and unique atmosphere.
“I was looking to have fun,” sophomore outfielder Chase DeLauter said. “Of course I worked on my swing and becoming more consistent, but for me this summer was about having fun.”
DeLauter was named the Most Valuable Player following the Bruins’ win, once again making a name for himself in Harrisonburg. The sophomore standout has been consistent with his performance since his first game as a Duke back in February. Holding a .545 batting average during the summer, DeLauter had 36 hits, 39 RBIs and 13 home runs.
“It makes me feel like I can just go and have fun and play in college like I did with the Bruins,” DeLauter said. “We saw some really good arms in the RCBL, so it makes me feel like I can hit well in college this spring as well.”
Showalter also took part in the RCBL this summer and pitched for the Bridgewater Reds. He had 14 strikeouts in 14 innings played, holding an ERA of 2.57. The Reds finished fifth in the league this year with a record of 11-10.
“It was good to continue getting more innings and keep playing,” Showalter said. “I got to develop my third and fourth pitches that I don’t use as often in collegiate play, so hopefully that’ll show to be beneficial going into the spring.”
Senior pitcher Nick Stewart didn’t participate in the RCBL but instead joined a new summer league located in Loudoun County, Virginia. The standout pitcher was slated to be drafted to MLB prior to the pandemic, but the league chose to shorten the draft this year to match the shortened season and limited rosters.
“After the draft got shortened, I just started training to go back to JMU the next year, and it started with summer ball,” Stewart said. “Then, I just started focusing on coming back next season.”
Stewart was one of many collegiate baseball players in the Northern Virginia area to sign up for the Loudoun County league. The league was created this past summer and had over 300 players involved.
Many players originally from the Loudoun County area are often committed to play in major baseball teams such as Louisville, University of Tennessee and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. These players can also be former teammates from travel and high school teams, giving way for unique rivalries that aren’t seen during the collegiate season.
“I chose to stay in my hometown mainly because the competition was a little better there rather than in the RCBL,” Stewart said. “And it gave me a chance to be with my family longer.”
Now, with the team back on campus and the summer leagues over, the Diamond Dukes are beginning their own training for the fall season. Without a fall game or season to play, the team is practicing and preparing the newest teammates as well as continuing to work on skills the RCBL has given them.
“I just want to keep getting better every day,” Showalter said. “Just go out there and put it all on the field and see what happens. With the years of work I’ve put into this, it’s exciting to see it all come together and see how far that’ll take me.”
The team will see the return of Stewart, Showalter, senior infielder Fox Semones and senior first baseman Brady Harju this spring. The four were likely to enter MLB either as draft picks or as free agents. However, with the canceled spring season, the NCAA gave an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes, granting their return.
“It’s about surrounding yourself with your teammates to get better and improve,” Stewart said. “We want to get better and so we surround ourselves with teammates who can push us like a coach can and training harder than I would without everything going on.”
The 2021 season schedule has yet to be released, but the NCAA has yet to make a decision on athletics for winter and spring sports.
Contact Madison Hricik at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.