When you think of the big baseball hotbeds, which places come to mind? Texas. Florida. Southern California. Virginia Beach? As odd as that last one may sound, it’s really not that far off. There are currently only 700,000 people in Norfolk and Virginia Beach,the region formerly known as Tidewater(now Hampton Roads), yet it has managed to produce 6 of Major League Baseball’s hottest stars. This upcoming series between the Nationals and Diamondbacks would have seen three of those stars play on the same field. Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and Mark Reynolds and Justin Upton(currently on the DL) all came from the small coastal community along with the Mets’ David Wright, Twins’ Michael Cuddyer, and the Rays’ BJ Upton(older brother of Justin). Six players, six All Star appearances, including Zimmerman, Upton, and Wright all playing for the National League in 2009.
It all started back in 1992, when Marvin Townsend andhis friend Gary Wright started two rival AAU baseball programs to give area youth a chance to showcase their abilities. He started with a 14 and Under squad named the Virginia Blasters led by Michael Cuddyer, who Townsend was already introducing as “a future major leaguer.” Next came the 11 and Under program that featured the talented middle infield of David Wright at shortstop andBJ Upton at second base. Future teams from the area allowed for Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, andJustin Upton to shine. Coach Townsend would have his players learn to hit by pitching them Cool Whip discs to simulate breaking pitches, and it must have worked. The program produced five first rounders between 1997 and 2005 and Ryan Zimmerman has the longest hitting streak of 2009 with 30 games, David Wright is in the top 5 in the NL in batting average, and Mark Reynolds is 2nd in the majors in home runs. The program also managed to produce Major League relievers Bill Bray, Josh Rupe, and Clay Rapada as well as a number of current minor leaguers.
Unfortunately, Marvin Townsend passed away a few years ago and the AAU program seemed to die with him. The powerhouse which had once dominated at all age groups is now down to a single 13 and Under team. This weekend will serve as a showcase for what has become the unlikeliest of baseball powerhouses. But while Coach Townsend is no longer coaching, the effects he had on the game of baseball will forever live on in the careers of these six major leaguers from the small coastal community, tucked away in the corner of Virginia.