The month of May was well underway when veteran baseball coach and longtime Loudouner Warner Workman received a sudden go-ahead to form a club for the Blue Ridge Adult League.
Three hectic weeks later, on June 2, the Loudoun Rangers took the field.
“I had already called the Blue Ridge League to ask about fielding a college-level team,” said Workman, who had been looking to establish such a squad for the Northern Virginia Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ (FCA) Power Baseball program, on whose board he sits.
“In May they called back and said they just had a team drop out, and they told us, ‘You’re taking their place.’”
In that brief, frenetic preparation period (and with enthusiastic support from Purcellville mayor Bob Lazaro, Workman pointed out) he managed to secure bats, balls, uniforms, places to play—and, most importantly, players.
As it turned out, local college-level ballplayers were the easiest component to acquire.
“To compete you really need about 20 guys. First we got six. Then eight, then 12, then 14. Before you knew it, we had to turn guys away,” said Rangers manager Bob Ferretti. His son Matt, like Workman’s son Warner and pitching coach Dan Harasin’s son Jon, are Division III ballplayers on the Rangers’ roster.
Nearly half of that roster hails from Loudoun; the remainder comes from Fairfax. Most are products of the FCA Power Baseball system. Many currently belong to collegiate programs, while several others look to hook on with a college team. Some Rangers are playing simply to relive the joy of the game.
“This is a chance for these guys to get out here, get some reps and play,” Ferretti said. “Guys are seeing some baseball like they’d see it in college.”
A former head coach at Leesburg Christian School and active within the Upper Loudoun Little League and Greater Loudoun Babe Ruth organizations, Workman knows how playing baseball in a competitive atmosphere fosters a player’s growth—more than just athletically.
“In the end, can they say they had a great time, played some competitive baseball with a great group of guys?,” Workman posited. “This is a positive experience for them.”
Back in the game
Right-handed pitcher and hard-hitting corner infielder Ryan Miller starred in Potomac Falls’ acclaimed program before moving on to Frederick (Md.) Community College last year.
He opted not to play college ball that first spring, but now feels he’d like to opt back in.
“For me this is getting ready to go before tryouts,” said Miller, who got wind of the Rangers from a Twitter feed. “This is good enough competition so that I’m not going back without playing for over a year.”
Miller said he was initially surprised at the six-team league’s level of play. Several clubs sport more mature players, some with professional experience. But he feels good about his progress in returning to baseball shape, including some newfound life on his fastball.
“I was a little nervous. I didn’t know how I was going to throw, and taking a year off and then trying to hit an 85-mile-per-hour fastball, you don’t know how that’ll go,” said Miller, the Rangers’ clean-up hitter and a primary hurler. “But that’s what you need to speed up your game. Things are falling into place and it’s a lot of fun.”
Righty moundsman Taylor Jernigan, Miller’s high school teammate, came up through FCA Power Baseball’s levels. He toiled for Division II Chowan (N.C.) University for one season before deciding to re-open his options.
“This is like a new start for me because I’d like to play again somewhere,” Jernigan said. “That’s my goal. I don’t want to stop. This is my passion right here.”
Brothers Justin and Nathan Matzker of Lincoln landed with the Rangers not because they aspire to college ball, but because they had an itch to scratch. Their father Dan, with memories still strong of watching them play from tee-ball to Leesburg Christian, was delighted to give a helping hand when he saw Workman’s advertisement soliciting players.
“They’d both been out of baseball for a couple of years,” said the elder Matzker as he sat in the Woodgrove High School bleachers, eyes on Justin’s pitching and Nathan’s outfield play. “I called Warner, and he said he was just about to call me to let them know about this opportunity.”
The chance to suit up for the Loudoun Rangers seems a fortuitous one for the Matzker boys.
“Desire,” Matzker responded when asked about his sons’ motivation to return to the field. “They had what you’d call successful boyhood careers, they’re both very competitive and they just love the game.”
There’s something in it for dear old Dad, too.
“I love it. I spent a lot of years watching them play and went through withdrawals when they were done,” he said with a chuckle. “When this opportunity came up, my wife [Janet] and I were as excited as they were. We couldn’t be happier about it.”
Workman fully intends for the opportunity that is the Loudoun Rangers to be available to college-age ballplayers next summer and beyond.
“We will continue to provide this level of baseball for Loudoun and Fairfax residents,” Workman said, “while providing a place for FCA and other players to have a place to play.”
Loudoun Rangers baseball club
-Home venues: Fireman’s Field; Woodgrove High School
-Coaches: Bob Ferretti (manager); Warner Workman; Dan Harasin
-League: Blue Ridge Adult League (wood-bat)
-Age range: 22-and-under
-Roster size: 22
-Play level: Approximately Division III
-Admission charge: $0
-All photos by Beverly Denny
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