For Banks, the
hardest part of managing the team was filling out the lineup card. Because all
the players were shortstops, Banks had to rotate them among shortstop, second
base and third base. It was good training for the future, when Wright, Reynolds
and Zimmerman would become third basemen, and Cuddyer and both Uptons would
move to the outfield. The Mets played 25 games, traveling up and down the
Eastern seaboard, passing time by picking on Justin Upton. "We made fun of
him because he was the smallest," says Zimmerman, who turned 24 on Sept.
28. "Now he's bigger than all of us."
By 2003 Reynolds
and Zimmerman were at the University of Virginia, Wright and B.J. Upton were in
the minor leagues, and Justin Upton was at Great Bridge High in Chesapeake.
From the time Justin was 10, playing for the Blasters, he was drawing
intentional walks as if he were Barry Bonds. The Diamondbacks drafted him No. 1
in '05, and two years later, just before his 20th birthday, he joined the rest
of the group in the major leagues. They studied each other's batting lines
nightly. At the '06 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh, as Wright prepared for the
Home Run Derby, he received a text message from B.J. Upton: DON'T EMBARRASS THE
AREA. Wright pounded 16 home runs in the first round.
parents would see each other around town, at the post office or the grocery
store, and shake their heads in disbelief. This year, when the Diamondbacks
played the Nationals in Washington, the Upton family sat with the Reynolds
family, watching their sons' team play against Zimmerman's
team—Blasters-Drillers all over again. "It was really weird," Manny
Upton says. "We looked at each other like, Haven't we been doing this since
they were 10?"
death the Blasters have all but disappeared—only one team, 13-and-under,
remains—while the Drillers have taken control of the area. Sinnen, still a
Drillers coach, has a term he uses when one of his infielders makes a
particularly nifty pickup. He calls it a "Zim play."
Zimmerman will be idle this October, his buddies hope to still be playing.
Wright, Reynolds and both Uptons are in position to make the playoffs. Cuddyer,
recovering from a broken foot, is hoping to join them. No matter the outcome,
they will meet back home afterward. They still work out together in the
off-season at Fitness 19 in Chesapeake, hit the batting cages at Grand Slam
U.S.A. in Virginia Beach, play in each other's charity golf tournaments and
talk about where they will watch the Virginia--Virginia Tech football game.
Wright throws a holiday-birthday party at an area lounge and pays for a block
of hotel rooms to make sure no one has to drive home afterward.
changed that much," says Wright. "We still do everything
Their club is
growing. Other major leaguers from Hampton Roads include relievers Clay Rapada,
27, of the Detroit Tigers; Josh Rupe, 26, of the Texas Rangers; and Bill Bray,
25, of the Cincinnati Reds. Prominent minor leaguers include first
baseman--outfielder Jason DuBois, 29, of the Cubs; righthander Justin Orenduff,
25, of the Los Angeles Dodgers; infielder Matt Smith, 25, of the Mets; and
lefthander Justin Jones, 24, of the Nationals (the same Justin Jones whom B.J.
Upton struck on the forearm eight years earlier). Townsend followed all of them
on the Internet, jotting their stats in a notebook alongside Cuddyer's and
Wright's and Reynolds's and Zimmerman's and the Uptons'.
Townsend died at
the beginning of the baseball season, in April 2007, so his players mourned
from a distance. They reminisced about his joyful spirit (he once walked onto
the field with a snorkel and a rubber duck and soaked his team with a water
gun), his notorious temper (he was ejected from games as a player, manager, fan
and parent), and his creative ways to help young people learn. A statement from
Wright, read at the funeral, began, "I could go on for days about what
Coach Townsend has taught me."
Walk through the
front door of the Townsend house, and you are greeted by a quote from Babe
Ruth, painted above an interior doorway: I WON'T BE HAPPY UNTIL WE HAVE EVERY
BOY IN AMERICA BETWEEN THE AGES OF 6 AND 16 WEARING A GLOVE AND SWINGING A BAT.
The quote pretty well sums up Townsend's life mission. "I painted it,"
says his widow, Cathy, "but it's hard for me to look at sometimes."
In his final
months Townsend thought a lot about bottle caps and coffee lids. He could not
coach much anymore, but he could still help the next generation hit. So he met
with a NASA engineer to design his own plastic lid, flexible enough that it
would not break, aerodynamic enough that it would not flutter. He called it the
Towny Townsend Hitting Disc and found a plastics company in Suffolk to
manufacture it in bulk. Cuddyer and Wright helped him film an instructional
DVD. When Townsend died, there were still 20,000 discs sitting in his