STUARTS DRAFT — Season two for the Stuarts Draft Diamondbacks in the Rockingham County Baseball League is two days away.The Diamondbacks open the 2006 season 7 p.m. Tuesday against Montezuma at The Diamond Club.

Stuarts Draft was supposed to begin the season Saturday against the Bridgewater Reds, but that game was postponed because the Reds lack enough players. The game has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, meaning the Diamondbacks have three straight home games to open the new year. They also host Elkton at 7 p.m. Saturday.
In their inaugural RCBL season, the Diamondbacks finished fifth with a 13-15 record.

“We had a successful first year,” Stuarts Draft owner-manager Orvin Kiser said. “I had people tell me we wouldn’t win but three or four games. I was very pleased with the way the year turned out.”

Kiser thinks the Diamondbacks can contend for the RCBL championship.

“Last year was a learning experience for everyone,” he said. “I think a lot of players were a little tentative and intimidated using the wooden bats, but they got better as the season went on. With that year’s experience under their belts, I’m pretty excited about this year’s team.”

The Diamondbacks’ biggest signing during the offseason was former Waynesboro High School and Bridgewater College slugger J.R. Estes.

“J.R. is a man-child,” Kiser said. “I’m not sure I can afford to have him on the team the way he was hitting balls out of the park during practice last week. His bat in the middle of the lineup is going to be huge for us.”

Two of the outfielders — Wilson grad Mark Balderson and former Rockbridge County standout Brian Sandridge, who redshirted as a freshman this season at Virginia Military Institute — are also familiar names.

Buck Birkhead, who is the reigning RCBL rookie of the year, will man right field.

Other outfielders include Barney Quick, another Waynesboro and Bridgewater grad, and Derek Milecki. Kiser indicated that Milecki, who graduated from Albemarle and is playing his college ball in Indiana, could go in the baseball draft.

The infield looks like a Stuarts Draft High School reunion with Shelton Stevens, who is currently still in the postseason playoffs at Palm Beach Atlantic University, expected to work at short. Robbie Cook will also see time at short, while Kent Burford is the second baseman.
Seth Berry, a former Wilson standout, at third breaks up Draft’s infield monopoly, while Estes works over at first.

Kiser thinks his pitching ace will be Drew Dobbins. Dobbins, who played at Waynesboro, is playing his college ball at Shenandoah University. When he’s not pitching, Dobbins can also fill in at first.
The Diamondbacks also are counting on returning veterans Dave Waksmunski, Chris Henderson, Tyler Napier and Bubba Pulley to give them innings.

Trip Kiser, who played last season, and Jacob Leonard, a Riverheads grad, are expected to share the catching duties.

Kiser, who will be assisted by Jeff Templeton, said he has more players that are expected to sign contracts, but can’t discuss them until the paperwork is completed.

“This is a very talented league,” Kiser said. “But there are a lot of different interests for the players. A lot of them have jobs. In this league, you can’t fill out a lineup card until five minutes before game time after you check the parking lot to see who’s showing up to play that night.”

That uncertainty led Kiser, at age 51, to become a player-manager late last season.

“It was fun being out there pitching for a save,” Kiser said. “But I don’t want to do that every day. Hopefully, I won’t have to be on the field at all this season.”

Kiser also said Diamondback fans should enjoy the face-lift The Diamond Club is undergoing with a new concession stand, restrooms and press box. Construction is expected to be completed in early June.

“The ballpark is going to be great for fans when everything is finished,” Kiser said.