The last time Jeremy Wagner and Will Wagner played on the same team was 2017, when Miller School began its run of three straight Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II state titles.
That will change this summer, when the Wagner brothers take the diamond together again, along with several former high school teammates, for the Montezuma Braves in the Rockingham County Baseball League.
“It’s such a special moment, because I know I won’t be able to take the field with them ever again after this summer,” Jeremy Wagner said. “I’m lucky to be given the chance to play with my brother and friends one last time.”
The RCBL is a wooden-bat league that was established in 1924, making it the oldest amateur baseball league in the country and second longest running baseball league in America, just behind Major League Baseball. The league is comprised of eight teams in the Shenandoah Valley.
Summer baseball along the Interstate 81 corridor is typically busy this time of year with both the Valley Baseball League and RCBL in action. But the Valley League elected to cancel its 2020 season last month due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving players looking for other opportunities to play this summer.
“With no other baseball currently going on throughout the Shenandoah Valley, our league will provide a place for current college players and rising players to compete in a high level of competitive baseball and continue to improve on their skills before they head into the fall-ball season of their respective colleges,” Montezuma Braves coach Chris Rush said. “Not only is our league offering a chance for players to play this year, it is also offering a vast number of fans and families a way to enjoy baseball.”
Nearly two dozen players from Central Virginia will be on RCBL rosters this summer, including 10 with the Montezuma Braves. Some are holdovers, such as former Fluvanna County catcher Jacob Critzer, recent Madison County graduate Connor Houser and former Miller School pitcher Matt Sykes.
“Playing against college-level players was a great benefit for me,” Houser said. “There are a lot of really talented players on the Montezuma team. I hope to learn from them how to adjust to college life, on and off the field.”
After the Valley League and similar summer leagues canceled their seasons, many players started looking for options to play baseball this summer.
The RCBL and the Piedmont Collegiate League in Caroline County elected to consolidate their seasons to maintain the safety of its players while allowing them to continue to grow. Because of the decision, the RCBL expanded rosters to 30 players, allowing teams to recruit players from outside their respective counties.
Former Miller School standout and current Clemson catcher Adam Hackenberg and Liberty’s Will Wagner had invitations to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer. Former Covenant School and current William & Mary pitcher Jacob Haney and Jeremy Wagner, who will play at Austin Peay next year, also had opportunities elsewhere, but elected to stay home and play in the RCBL.
Rush took over the Montezuma program last year and instantly formed a connection with Miller School assistant coach Nolan Shaffer, who also serves as the director of travel and showcase teams for the Baseball Academy Invaders in Charlottesville.
Shaffer, who used to play for Montezuma, has been a good resource for Rush, along with Miller School coach Billy Wagner, for helping groom players for the next level.
“I credit those two for the vast amount of quality players that have come from Charlottesville and the surrounding areas,” Rush said. “This league has historically had very good talent in it and I think adding players from [Central Virginia] only adds to what this league already has.”
Former Miller School standout Garrett Payne (N.C. State), recent Fluvanna County grad Andrew Ward (VCU) and William Monroe product Derek Ryan (Eastern Mennonite) should expect to see some playing time for the Braves this summer.
Rush believes the Central Virginia connection could mean big things for his club.
“We know some of the players we recruited from the Charlottesville area this year will move on to a true collegiate summer team next year,” he said. “We are hoping they can utilize their experience and talent this year to not only help us win a championship, but to also be a mentor to some of our younger players who have been recruited at a younger age to be a part of our program long-term and will be looking to go into the future to carry on a winning tradition.”
The Charlottesville connection is not limited to just Montezuma. Liam Grubbs, Jonathan Sexton and Mason Mitchell will suit up for the Bridgewater Reds. Former Orange County stars Cannon Davies, Jacob Slaughter and Keenan Williams, along with Mark Arrington, Lee Carneal, Connor Lilley and Jacob Rice will play for the Elkton Blue Sox. Reilly Owen made the roster with the New Market Shockers.
The season starts Saturday, June 27 and will run through July 28. Each team plays 21 games during that span, which should make for a very entertaining summer.
“It’s going to be a great feeling to be able to get back on the field and do what I love,” Critzer said. “It was a cool feeling to know I’ll be playing with people that I’ve with before. It’s going to feel like home.”
Houser, who has played with some of his teammates since he was 9-years-old, and is eager to get back on the field again.
“We all kind of started at the same time on various teams,” Houser said. “It will be special to take the field together before competing against each other in college.”
For Jeremy Wagner, this summer on the diamond has special meaning.
“It’s an amazing feeling being on the field again, especially with my friends and brother,” Wagner said. “To be able to play with Will, Adam, Jake and Garrett again is such a good feeling, because I know that this is the last time I will ever get to take the field with them.”