Butler 1 (copy)

Eastern View graduate Till Butler, pictured batting against Culpeper last year, is one of 21 players who will make up Culpeper Post 330’s team in this summer’s Virginia Independent Veterans Baseball League.

It’s been little more than a week since Major League Baseball announced it would begin its 2020 season in late July—welcome news for fans across the country who were hoping for any semblance of action in the wake of COVID-19’s broad swath of destruction across the world.

Luckily for area fans, the return of baseball won’t be limited to just the big leaguers.

American Legion Post 330 in Culpeper will take the field July 6, hosting Stafford in a seven-inning affair with a 6:30 p.m. start time at Eastern View High School. It will mark the first major sporting event in Culpeper County since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools, nonessential businesses and virtually all public recreation beginning in March.

The matchup with Stafford will kick off off a summer slate of games for Culpeper against other Legion teams from as close as neighboring Madison County to as far away as McLean and Springfield. However, it won’t quite be the kind of campaign that was commonplace in the pre-COVID-19 era.

When the pandemic-induced shutdowns began in March, the Legion did not go unscathed. Faced with an uncertain future and concerns about the safety of everyone involved, officials opted to cancel the 2020 season in April.

Legion coaches weren’t willing to give up on things though. Led by Arlington Post 139 manager and Legion ambassador Bob Romano, they came together to form the Virginia Independent Veterans Baseball League, which will operate outside the purview of the American Legion.

“I received a phone call from Bob in late April,” Culpeper’s Patrick Stead said. “He asked if we’d be interested in playing with them this summer in an independent league, to which my response was ‘definitely.’”

Romano, who is also the commissioner of Northern Virginia-based District 17, had already gotten buy-in from five of the teams in that league: Alexandria Post 129, Falls Church Post 130, Springfield Post 176, Vienna Post 180 and McLean Post 270. He then added squads from Damascus (Md.) Post 171, Martinsburg (W.Va.) Post 14, Spotsylvania Post 320, Stafford Post 290 and Winchester Post 21 in addition to Culpeper.

“It was a challenge to get this done,” Romano said of the VIVBL’s formation,. “But now the players will have a good time and will have a chance to play.”

Culpeper will play games on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, with the regular season running through July 30. Playoffs will be held in August.

“COVID-19 has taken a toll on a lot of sports,” Stead said. “When schools closed, athletes had to stop playing organized sports and do whatever they could do on their own time. Now they just want to come out, play games, have a little fun and be safe while doing it.”

Culpeper’s roster is comprised of players aged 14-19 years old. They are: Daniel Jones, Till Butler, Luke Martz, John Embrey, Xavier Carr, Zack Gray, Zac Bittle, Jameson Woodard, Nick Pancione, Henry Wood, Jeremy Kwolek, Austin Clem, Kelly Hackley, John Huggins, Kyle Ellis, Ivan Arzola, Colby Neal, Landon Ponds, Clayton Peck, Mason Ramey and Seth Whitesell.

In addition to that group, Stead added that there will be a junior squad made up of players from ages 13-16—a common practice in Legion ball. Branson James, Carter Jenkins, Hunter Donaldson, Jack Deal and Ross White will join Martz, Embrey, Carr, Bittle, Clem, Ellis and Ramey to round out that roster.

The juniors will play teams consisting of players from the same age group beginning with a July 20 home contest against Madison Post 157.

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