Once a Brave, still a Brave.
Since last summer, George Laase has gone from playing with the Barton Braves of the Ohio Valley Baseball League to coaching in the highly regarded Valley Baseball League for the Staunton (Va.) Braves.
The Buckeye Local and Fairmont State graduate was a standout second baseman for Barton, earning OVBL Most Valuable Player honors three summers ago.
GEORGE LAASE, left, is pictured with Ben Verlander, younger brother of Detroit Tigers’ pitcher Justin Verlander. Laase is an assistant coach and director of field preparations for Staunton in the Valley Baseball League in Virginia. Verlander is a member of the team.
He continues his passion for the sport he grew up playing as a child, serving as an assistant coach and director of field preparations for Staunton, one of 12 teams that comprise the VBL.
"This league is a great chance for college freshmen and sophomores from across the nation to receive exposure," Laase said Friday morning in a telephone interview from the Shenandoah Valley, which is nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains on the west.
"It's also the last chance for some college juniors to make an impression," he added.
Laase, a former three-time first-team all-West Virginia Conference product at FSU, had the chance to play for Staunton in 2003.
"It was a fantastic opportunity," he said. "The OVBL will always have a place in my heart, but this is serious baseball down here," he noted. "There are no nights off in this league."
The VBL was formed in 1923 and became an NCAA-sanctioned league 38 years later. Although the NCAA no longer has direct involvement with summer leagues, the VBL continues to operate under collegiate rules.
Comprising the league, in addition to Staunton, are the Covington Lumberjacks, Front Royal Cardinals, Harrisonburg Turks, Haymarket Senators, Luray Wranglers, New Market Revels, Rockbridge Rapids, Strasburg Express, Waynesboro Generals, Winchester Royals and Woodstock River Bandits.
The VBL is funded, in part, by a grant from Major League Baseball and is a member of the National Alliance of College Summer Baseball, a national affiliation of summer leagues. The VBL has produced more than 1,000 professional baseball players, including a record 79 former players taken in the 2008 MLB first-year player draft.
"I played with guys like Matt Fox (Twins, Red Sox, Mariners)), Joe Koshansky (Rockies, Rangers) and Gabby Sanchez (Miami Marlins)," Laase recalled.
In 1993, the league went to wooden bats, much like the OVBL did a few years back.
"Guys like Mike (Kolvek), Cory (DelGuzzo), Tom (Pasco) and Laney (Simone) really saved the OVBL by going to wooden bats," Laase praised.
A current member of the Staunton Braves has some major league ties - that being Ben Verlander, the younger brother of Detroit Tigers' all-star righthander, Justin Verlander.
"Ben is an every day hitter for us," Laase said of the outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter, who recently completed his freshman season at Old Dominion. "He's been compared so much to his brother, but I think he's done an outstanding job of trying to find his own identity this season. He's starting to come into his own."
As far as work ethic, Laase said the 6-4, 185-pound Verlander is "the first one at the stadium and one of the last to leave. He's always asking how he can get better."
Laase also said that Verlander's parents make it to as many games as they can.
In 2011, the VBL began a process of transitioning to not-for-profit status. All 12 teams now in the league are not-for-profit.
The VBL is also more than just outstanding baseball on a nightly basis. Each community involves itself with the team by housing players, providing summer jobs, financially supporting their team and regularly attending games.
"Each town makes its team its team," he said. "The people are so supportive. It's great the way they treat the players."
The Braves lead the VBL in attendance with an average of 845 fans going through the turnstiles at John Moxie Memorial Stadium in Gypsy Hill Park nightly for home games. They've topped the 1,000-mark on seven occasions, with a crowd of 1,512 being the biggest.
"The atmosphere was unbelievable that night," Laase recalled.
On the road, they play in front of an average of 362.
"We probably have the best fan base," he noted. "But our owners do a great job. It's a year-round thing for them as far as getting sponsors and such."
The Braves are currently 22-25 overall and fourth in the South Division with a 3-7 mark.
"It's a great, great league," Cisar said of the Virginia-based league. "I had a great time."
He is listed as a utility player for Winchester. Locally, the Ohio State University has a trio of performers, as does Youngstown State. Bowling Green and Rio Grande each have one, along with WVIAC schools Alderson-Broaddus, Concord and Wheeling Jesuit (Lakewood's Jordan Krauss).
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org