STUARTS DRAFT — Baseball is coming to a ballpark near you.
The Rockingham County Baseball League announced Monday that the league will begin play this summer on June 27.
With the Valley League and local youth leagues shut down, and Major League Baseball uncertain of an opening day, the RCBL is one of the only live baseball leagues that many fans will be able to witness for the foreseeable future.
"We're the only show in town," said Stuarts Draft Diamond Club President Bill Heishman.
Heishman oversees the ballpark in Stuarts Draft that the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks call home.
"We're excited to be able to play," Heishman said.
But with the current regulations in effect due to the coronavirus, it won't be baseball as usual.
There will be fans, but they will be spread apart in social distancing and masks will be required. There will be hand sanitizers available and the bathrooms and concession area will maintain sanitary guidelines. Celebrations by the ballplayers will be in keeping with the guidelines.
"We want to create a safe place for everyone to come," Heishman said.
The good news is that there will be no admission charge as each of the 11 home games will have a game night business sponsor.
The Diamondbacks' first game will be June 27 at home against the Bridgewater Reds. The regular season will conclude on July 26 at home against Clover Hill. First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Another change is the expansion of the roster from 25 to 30 players. Games will be played on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with Monday and Thursday nights reserved for makeup or rainouts.
The increased roster will allow each club to have more pitchers since there are five scheduled games per week instead of the normal two or three.
"My kids are ready to go," said D-backs manager Les Sandridge. "We're champing at the bit and ready to roll."
Many college players don't have anywhere to play this summer, so the D-backs will have the ability to play more Division I or Division II players. With the other seven teams doing likewise, the league as a whole should offer a higher level of play. The talent across the league should be high.
"The increased roster will give us more depth in pitching," Sandridge said. "We will have a wider variety of quality ballplayers."
The D-backs, who finished second in the regular season last year, have about 18 returning players from 2019 and add about a dozen new players.
Each team is allowed to have eight players from out of the local area.
"We have what you might call get-along-ability," Sandridge said. "They are ready and are quality guys."
Sandridge is starting his fifth season with the D-backs. The team is having two practices a week until opening night.
One of the returning veterans is Tyler Wilcher, who played his high school ball at Buffalo Gap and collegiately for Eastern Mennonite. Wilcher normally plays left field, but is versatile for infield play as well and can take the mound also.
"We thought it was a long shot (being able to play this summer), they kept pushing back the start date ...It's really a miracle that we are playing at all," Wilcher said.
One of the new Diamondbacks is Jaily Paredes, who played in the Valley League last summer for the Staunton Braves. He has made it from the Dominican Republic to a junior college in Chicago to Cecil College in Maryland to Mid-American Christian University in Oklahoma City to Stuarts Draft this summer.
Paredes is a great talent on the mound for the D-backs to pick up and is happy to have found a home.
"I'm ready to play," Paredes said.
With all other outlets shut down, the college players are fortunate to have the opportunity to play.
"They have a chance to hone their skills and when they go back (to college), they should have a leg up on their opposition," Sandridge said.