Justin Verlander among Virginians featured in baseball history book


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In the first World Series game ever played, on October 1, 1903, Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Deacon Phillippe, born in the small town of Rural Retreat, Southwest Virginia, beat Boston Americans pitcher and future Hall of Famer Cy Young in a Victory 7-3.

Another Virginia native, Astros ace Justin Verlander, left his mark on this year’s World Series, achieve victory in match 5 of Houston’s eventual six-game triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies. Verlander, who grew up outside of Richmond and played college baseball at Old Dominion, is the favorite to win his third American League Cy Young Award – named after the guy who did well despite losing Game 1 of the World Series more than a century ago – when the winner will be announced next week.

Phillippe and Verlander are two of many names featured in a new book on baseball in the commonwealth“From Tidewater to the Shenandoah: Snapshots of Virginia’s Rich Baseball Heritage,” which was co-authored by longtime local sportswriters David Driver and Lacy Lusk.

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“Our two goals for the book were to represent all areas of the state as best we could, and all levels of play, from high school to college, minors to majors,” said Driver, who recently served as editor. sportsman for the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, said in a telephone interview.

As its title suggests, the book is not a complete history of baseball in Virginia, but rather a collection of brief biographies of players, coaches, scouts, broadcasters, and others with baseball ties to the Commonwealth, beginning with residents of the Richmond area and clockwise around the state.

There’s a chapter on longtime Richmond baseball coach Tracy Woodson, who was a member of the 1988 World Series Dodgers team, and another on Tyler Zombro, a Harrisonburg native and former pitcher. George Mason, who made a inspiring return after taking online practice for the lead in a minor league game in 2021. Culpeper native Eppa Rixey, who became the first Virginian inducted into the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, is featured in the book, as is the Richmond native Ray Dandridgewho played in the black leagues from 1933 to 1944 and was eventually enrolled in Cooperstown in 1987.

Driver and Lusk also spotlight Virginians such as Negro League star Spottswood Poles, known as Black Ty Cobb; Curt Dudley, who was the Valley Baseball League’s public announcer for 40 years; and Michael Tucker, who drew scouts to Longwood University from Farmville in the early 1990s before his 12-year big league career. Most of the names featured in the book are Virginia natives, but there are a few exceptions, including Ryan Zimmerman, who was born in North Carolina but whose number was retired at the University of Virginia and spent his entire career with the Washington Nationals.

Driver began working on the book after completing his first self-published project — “Hoop Dreams in Europe” a collection of stories about American players who have built careers overseas – earlier this year. With the World Series over, he and Lusk, who has been the Washington Nationals correspondent for Baseball America since 2005, are planning an update to their first edition before spring training. Driver said he’s heard many readers ask why this person or person wasn’t mentioned.

“According to Baseball Reference, there are approximately 350 Virginia natives who made the major leagues,” Driver said. “If we were to do anything about each, we’d be talking about a three-volume set.”

Focusing exclusively on the major league talent Virginia has produced would also preclude a broader look at some of the people who shaped the various Commonwealth minor league and summer college teams and circuits, including Rockingham County Baseball. League, which was founded in 1924.

“I think all 50 states could have a book like this,” Driver said, “but I think the small town communities are what makes Virginia unique. The fans who come to those Valley League games and the Rockingham County Baseball League this summer know who these guys are. They see them around town. They might even stay in their house.

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