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Mark Byington Impresses At Roanoke Valley Sports Club

A long-awaited appearance by Mark Byington before the Roanoke Valley Sports Club lived up to all expectations at the Salem Civic Center earlier this week.

In his second season as the James Madison men's basketball coach, Byington directed the Dukes to a 13-7 finish, including an 8-2 record in the Colonial Athletic Association, after which he was named CAA coach of the year.

The original agreement was for Byington to speak to the sports club last year, but a COVID-19 breakout put that meeting on hold. In the end, it probably was better to have him speak in 2021, when he was a finalist for mid-major national coach of the year.

Byington spoke to a crowd Monday night that included two honorees designated as local "legends," Paul Bernard and Charlie Morgan. Bernard coached basketball at William Byrd High School and Charlie Morgan at Salem.

Many of Byington's former coaches and players were there, including Richard Morgan, one of the most decorated players to come through the valley. Morgan and his brother Charlie sat with the Byington family.

It was not the first time Byington had spoken to the sports club. As a young graduate assistant at UVa, he was dispatched to Salem by then-head coach Pete Gillen. When he got to the sports club, he learned that he would be sharing the podium with legendary Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer.

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It’s Early, But It's Feeling Like Déjà Vu All Over Again

You may have to get down on your knees and put your ear to the ground to hear it.

But it’s there. A slight, gentle tremor among Washington Nationals fans. A buzz of concern about manager Davey Martinez.

It’s not said aloud because it’s early. Plus he was the manager during the miraculous run to the World Series in 2019. To speak ill of his managing skills would be disrespectful of that.

But it’s there.

Martinez is a loveable guy that everyone would like as a friend and a neighbor. In 2018 he went 82-80, and many of us scratched our heads at times as to how a team that went 97-65 the previous year barely had a winning record with essentially the same amount of talent. The roster changed as it does every year, but you swapped Jayson Werth for Juan Soto, and the team still had Bryce Harper.

Then 2019 came and the same baffling bullpen decisions caused the team to start off 19-31 in the first 50 games. The rumbling about Davey grew louder until the team rallied around him and they somehow made the playoffs. He used starters out of the bullpen at key moments and everyone from superstars to role players came up with timely hits at the right moment. It was one of Washington Sports’ greatest moments as they brought home a World Series.

Last year was an asterisk. The team got off to a slow start, missed the playoffs, and with the COVID pandemic, how could you possibly evaluate the season fairly? If it were a round of golf, it was a mulligan. The 2021 season would be a more reasonable opportunity to tell.

After yesterday’s loss to Arizona, the team is now 5-8. The last two years the team started 19-31. For you math scholars out there, 19 out of 50 is a winning percentage of .38. Winning 5 out of 13 calculates to a winning percentage of .384615. Take that percentage, multiply it times 50 games and round it to the nearest whole number and you get….19-31.

As Yogi Berra once said, it’s looking like Déjà vu all over again.

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Orioles Win 2 of 3, Option Kremer To Alternate Site

It's never a bad weekend for Orioles fans when they win two of three and end up being tied for third in the AL East, something they did against the Texas Rangers this weekend. 

But remember, the 2021 season matters far more in terms of the progress of the Baby Birds than whether or not the O’s win a lot of games. The former is important so that eventually, we can worry about the latter.

The first of the Baby Birds to be demoted is starter Dean Kremer, who came over in the Manny Machado trade in 2018. Kremer wasn’t necessarily the headliner, but he’s one of the first from the trade to make it to the majors.

O’s fans watched in 2020 with glee as Kremer allowed just three runs in his first three starts. Kremer worked at least five innings in all of those three starts and never allowed more than four hits. So when Kremer ran into a buzzsaw in his final start of the season, there wasn’t a ton of reason to panic. Rookies hit bumps in the road.

Unfortunately, Kremer’s 2021 season has been pretty rocky.

Kremer didn’t pitch past the third inning in his first two starts of the season, allowing seven runs over those two outings. Kremer pitched just 4.2 innings in his Saturday start vs. Texas, though he only allowed one earned run.

So when the Orioles optioned Kremer down to the club’s alternate site at Bowie, it was a logical conclusion for a team in need of bullpen arms. Baltimore has two off-days coming up — one on Monday (today) and another on Wednesday. Kremer must be down for at least 10 days, meaning he can re-join the major league club on the 28th, right in the middle of a four-game stint vs. the Yankees.

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Injuries Have Become A Pattern for Nats' Pitching Staff

Since 2019, Dave Martinez’s motto has been “Go 1–0 today.”

The events of this week – and subsequent news this weekend – make a case for the alternative. The Nationals split their most recent four-game series with the Diamondbacks, but that’s of relatively minimal importance right now.

On Saturday, left-handed reliever Luis Avilan was confirmed to have suffered a UCL tear, as a result of back-to-back extended outings on Wednesday and Thursday. Then on Sunday, right-handers Stephen Strasburg (shoulder) and Wander Suero (oblique) were also placed on the 10-day IL.

The Nationals promoted Paolo Espino, who made Strasburg’s previously-scheduled Sunday start, and relievers Kyle McGowin and Ryne Harper to fill those three voids. All three have Major League experience, but none of them are difference makers, nor do they come with much apparent upside.

The Strasburg Situation

I noted in my recap from earlier this week that Strasburg had a rough outing in his last start Tuesday, and that the Nationals took exception to camera shots of the dugout that the Cardinals had access to. However, the team glossed over the fact that Strasburg wasn’t himself physically in that start.

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No Offense, But Nationals Offense Right Now Stinks

Dave Martinez has reached a crossroad.

Most people – myself included – will normally cite his mismanagement of the bullpen when it comes to criticism of the Nats' manager. But his construction of the batting order this season has also seemed rather archaic at times.

Davey doesn’t like to experiment with his lineup unless he has to. The Nationals are 12thin the majors in OPS, but they’re 28th in runs scored per game. If that doesn’t suggest a lineup change is necessary, nothing will.

The old school of thought in baseball was to hit your quickest player leadoff, a good hitter with speed second, your best overall hitter third, the hitter with the most pure power fourth, your next best “RBI guy” fifth, and the rest of your batters in order of ability after that.

Times have changed. There’s data suggesting that the No. 2 hitter across the MLB typically steps up to the plate in the most high-pressure situations, and that the importance of including speed at the top of the lineup is of diminishing importance. That doesn’t even factor in separating same-sided hitters, or who’s most comfortable hitting in each given spot in the lineup.

Davey deserves credit for trying Juan Soto in the No. 2 hole recently. Using Adam Eaton there in the past was often crippling. But there’s still more work to be done.

I’d start at the heart of the lineup. Since Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber’s regular-season debuts – and even during Spring Training – they’ve been hitting directly behind Soto. In some ways, that makes sense, but it’s also not quite ideal. Soto and Schwarber are both left-handed hitters, and Bell is a switch hitter, meaning he’ll normally hit from the left side – since most pitchers are right-handed. Particularly late in games, that gives opposing managers a strategic advantage. If they bring in a left-handed reliever to face them, the production of the trio will become much more limited than they’re otherwise capable of.

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This Homer Will Go Down In Washington Nationals History

I normally don’t make a big deal out of only one hit, but the one hit Kyle Schwarber recorded Friday night to walk off the game and give the Washington Nationals a 1-0 win is going to end up somewhere in Nationals folklore as the longest distance a baseball has ever travelled in the most powerful city in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, that ball was smashed. It looked like the scene from the movie Bull Durham, where Nuke LaLoosh tells Crash Davis "he hit that like he knew it was coming" and Crash tells him "he did. I told him." When Bob Uecker in the movie Major League talked about a ball being crushed toward South America, he was talking about the ball Schwarber hit.

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Something's Happening Here, What It Is Ain't Exactly Clear

Have you noticed what’s going on at Texas A&M these days?

Before we go any further, this is not a story to bash former Hokie Coach Buzz Williams. It’s also not a story to suggest any of these players mentioned are coming to Blacksburg.

But a few things have happened that seem interesting. At least to me they are. 

One is Jamie McNeilly reportedly leaving the Texas A&M staff to take a similar position under new head coach Ben Johnson at Minnesota. McNeilly was with the Hokies as an assistant under Williams for five years in Blacksburg, and was the backbone of Williams’ Canada connection. He was the key assistant in getting future NBA player  Nickeil Alexander-Walker to come to Virginia Tech.

McNeilly then went with Williams to Texas A&M and has continued that connection to top Canadian players. All told, McNeilly was with Buzz for 13 years including his time on Williams’ staff at Marquette.  But now after all that time together, he’s making a lateral move to Minnesota.

I’d have thought when they broke up the band between them, McNeilly would be leaving for a head coaching job.

At roughly the same time, the two players on the Aggies’ roster who are from Canada – Emmanuel Miller and Cashius McNeilly – both entered the transfer portal. Both have slight ties to Virginia Tech as Miller – who was Texas A&M’s leading scorer last season – signed with Virginia Tech while Williams was still the coach in Blacksburg. He asked for and was granted his release, then he followed Williams to the Lone Star State.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Johnny Hurst

Hmm

Kinda like Steve Roccafort(?) Leaving VT for ECU. I think Buzz also gave Jamie credit for a lot of the great inbounds plays they r... Read More
Friday, 16 April 2021 16:50
Dave Scarangella

Those were two different scena...

In Steve Roccaforte's situation, I believe there was a difference of opinion on talent evaluation and Buzz invited Steve to check ... Read More
Friday, 16 April 2021 17:35
Guest — Johnny Hurst

Jeff

Meant to leave this trivia answer here. Where was Jeff Reynold's 1st head coaching job? Right here in Hillsville at Carroll County... Read More
Saturday, 17 April 2021 08:27
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What Happened 14 Years Ago Is Ingrained In All Of Us

I had a bad day yesterday.

I won’t get into the details — we all have our own issues that we deal with on a regular basis. Sometimes we handle it well. Sometimes we don’t. At 26 years old, I’ve been through my fair share of good times and bad, and yesterday wasn't a good one. So as I sat there on Thursday night, I threw back a strong cocktail and tried to make sense of it all.

Then I looked at the date — April 15.

April 16 holds a special place in my heart, as it does for anyone and everyone associated with Virginia Tech. I was just 13 years old when 32 Hokies were taken from us on that tragic day, but I knew well what was happening. As a kid who’d been raised a tried-and-true Hokie, it was pretty devastating.

I've spent 14 years now grieving for those 32 families as well as the others on campus who escaped unscathed.

But to be real, they were unscathed in name only. They will carry what happened on April 16, 2007 for the rest of their lives and will never be able to truly escape.

For 14 years now, the Virginia Tech community, and to an extent the Commonwealth and the country, have spent this day in mourning. The three years I was a student at Tech, I spent the few minutes before midnight on April 16 and the next hour or so afterwards standing outside huddled around the memorial in front of Burruss Hall with my Hokie brothers and sisters, all of us mourning the loss of those 32. Through the rain, the stinging wind that whips across the Drillfield on an April night in Blacksburg, we stood silently as each of the 32 names were read aloud. We walked through the memorial, spending time at each stone, trying to make sense of what had happened.

What happened on April 16 is now ingrained in who I am. It’s probably ingrained in who you are, too. It’s become a part of who we are. Even if you weren’t there on April 16, you feel like you were.

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Hokies Add Size, Depth With Signing Of 6-8 Jalen Haynes

You have to hand it to Mike Young and the Hokies: They sure are good at keeping their interest in a player close to the vest.

Virginia Tech sort of surprised everyone late this afternoon when they announced the signing of incoming freshman Jalen Haynes. He’s 6-8, 215 pounds, from Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, FL and comes to the Hokies after playing a post-scholastic year at Montverde Academy last season. He’s been reclassified as a class of 2021 recruit, so he will be a freshman this fall.

"Jalen possesses the type of skill and size we are looking for in our program," Young said in a press release. "He reminds me of a lot of good players I have had the privilege of coaching in the past and we are excited to bring him to Virginia Tech. Jalen comes from a very good high school program and he has a great understanding of the game of basketball. We are excited for his future as a Hokie."

The signing continues Young’s remarkable string of signing players that seem to be exactly what the Hokies need to take the next step. Needing more scoring at the point, Young got Storm Murphy to transfer from Wofford and provide just that; needing a true center, the Hokies also picked up 7-foot transfer Michael Durr.

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I'd Be OK If They Removed April 16 From The Calendar

Tomorrow is April 16, and for me, if anyone wanted to start a campaign to remove the date from the calendar, I’d be all for it. Every April 16, I wake up and hear the same two phrases and can't get them out of my mind.

The first involves two words I heard on a police scanner on the morning of April 16, 2007: “31 Black.”

It was a Monday, and I was the general manager of a local radio station called WAGE in Leesburg. Immediately that morning, phone calls started coming in from parents who had children at Virginia Tech, asking “what is going on in Blacksburg?”

We were clueless. There was nothing on the news yet, but the frequency of the calls and the nervousness in the voices indicated something big was going on. We all started making calls and soon word came out that there had been a shooting at the Ambler-Johnston dorm. One dead, shooter on the loose.

Thanks to a suggestion from friends in Blacksburg, we soon figured out how to listen in on police band transmissions at Virginia Tech. I connected with it on one computer and turned the sound up as loud as it would go. I then grabbed another computer and was able to pick up streaming video from a Roanoke television station so we might be able to hear or see things as they were happening.

While monitoring these, I selectively listened to each for a few moments at a time. I’d walk back and forth between there and the studio to see if they heard anything, and just as I came back to my desk, I heard the end of a transmission with a voice saying “31 black.” Nobody at the station knew what it meant. All we knew was police were only reporting one fatality.

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Recent Comments
Dave Fulton

All In

Regardless our persuations on other days, on April 16, 2007 we were all Hokies.
Thursday, 15 April 2021 15:03
Dave Scarangella

Amen

Will always remember seeing this the next morning... Read More
Thursday, 15 April 2021 15:31
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As Meatloaf Once Sang, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad...

The noted philosopher Meatloaf may have been describing the Nationals and their time in St. Louis this week when he once sang "two out of three ain't bad."

But it wasn't the song that was significant: It was the band, or more accurately said, the band getting back together. 

Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Josh Harrison were reinstated from the Injured List (IL) on Monday, and for the first time this season, the Nationals had their entire team available to play. Bell started the first two games upon returning, and his counterparts played all three games in the series. The trio gave the lineup some much-improved length, proving why I believe the team has a strong chance to make the playoffs this year

Here’s a look at the difference the three of them made:

Before: Victor Robles, Trea Turner, Juan Soto, Zimmerman, Starlin Castro, Jordy Mercer, Andrew Stevenson, catcher, pitcher.
Bench Core: Hernan Perez, Luis Garcia, Yadiel Hernandez.

After: Robles, Turner, Soto, Bell, Schwarber, Castro, Harrison, catcher, pitcher.
Bench Core: Zimmerman, Stevenson, Mercer/Perez.

You can’t overstate how much of a boost this is for the lineup. Bell and Schwarber have – at least nearly – elite slugging potential, Castro becomes similar to Ian Desmond or a young Anthony Rendon in the No. 6 slot, and Harrison batting seventh – not to mention a catcher like Yan Gomes eighth – is an immeasurable luxury.

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They Finally Did It...

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