Foggy Bottom boy (left) sits with Brett Fuller – Purcellville Cannons Head Coach and owner, and Dennis Woods to discuss the upcoming baseball season. Photo by Gazette.
Western Loudoun is in store for a real treat as its new baseball team, the Purcellville Cannons, begin playing at Fireman's Field this spring. The first home game will be played against the New Market Rebels at Fireman's Field on Friday, Jun. 3 at 7pm.
Collegiate players from all over the United States recruited specifically through college coaches and major league scouts will play for the Cannons from early June to early August. Brett Fuller, owner of the team, has been busy reviewing stats, talking with coaches and players and assembling a winning team for the 2016 season. The Cannons hope to energize a supportive western Loudoun community with a summer of â€œCannons Fever.â€ The Purcellville Cannons have a history as rich as the league. The Cannons baseball organization is part of the Valley Baseball League, which is NCAA Sanctioned and supported by Major League Baseball.
Right in our back yard, we will have the opportunity to see the highest level of amateur baseball played by teams competing within a league with one of the richest histories in baseball.
The Purcellville Gazette's Foggy Bottom Boy sat down with Purcellville Cannons owner Brett Fuller late February at a local coffee shop to find out more about how he is preparing for a season with the best talent Fireman's Field has ever seen.
Foggy: What is your background in baseball?
Brett Fuller: I graduated from West Virginia University in 1987 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physical Education majoring in Sports Management. I was the Head Coach at Clarke County High School from 2006 -2007, then I joined Notre Dame Academy (now Middleburg Academy) as an Assistant Coach until becoming the Head Coach in 2010.
Foggy: How was the Purcellville Cannons formed?
Brett: In June 2012, I bought the Luray Wranglers and I bought them the second game of the season. We had a 44 game season that year and at the conclusion of the season, we relocated to Charlestown and changed the name from the Luray Wranglers to the Charlestown Cannons. The name had historical significance with it being in an area with civil war relevance. We had a three-year contract with the local school where we played. When the contract was up, we though it was time to move on and relocate. We were confident that Loudoun County would give us good community support.
Foggy: Fireman's Field is as good as it gets. Babe Ruth plays there. It's a miniature Wrigley Field.
Brett: It's the best all natural field in the Valley area â€“ without question. It can seat 2,500 spectators and we hope to grow to have a VIP section.
Foggy: How long is your commitment?
Brett: Through Dennis Woods we were able to make the necessary contacts here in Purcellville. And the Town Council asked for me to make a presentation during one of their meetings. I did so on July 28, 2015 and then on September 15, 2015. We got approval to relocate to Purcellville and play on Fireman's Field. Patrick Sullivan, the economic development director for the town was a big help. Fireman's Field is used for some American Legion games, Babe Ruth teams and traveling teams.
Foggy: How are the players chosen? Is there a draft?
Brett: There is no draft so everyone is essentially a free agent. The stipulation is that players must have played one year of college baseball and must have at least one year of eligibility remaining. We are filling our roster with rising sophomores, juniors and seniors. We usually contact the college coaches first and see who would be interested in playing and who is capable of playing in our league. We have made valuable contacts over the years with several schools so you will see players from some of those schools every year on our roster.
My son is the general manager of the team and he has done a wonderful job of building the roster for this season. Because our coaching staff is all-volunteer, and because I am a college summer coach not affiliated with any school, there are no restrictions to any type of player who can fill our roster with. We can fill our roster with Division 1, 2 and 3, junior college and NAIA students. If we have a college coach on our roster, we cannot sign any junior college players. JuCo players are some of the best players in the country and we have several JuCo players coming from top programs this year who are being tracked by MLB teams.
We had eight players on our roster that were drafted just last year in the MLB draft. Just this year we had one high school player drafted and he chose to go to college instead to improve his draft position. We have high caliber baseball players. Bottom line is that the first baseball game at Fireman's Field we play will be the best talent the field has ever seen which puts this in perspective.
Foggy: Do a lot of pro scouts come to these games?
Brett: Yes, every game. I meet with a lot of scouts before the games. They come to my office to ask about specific players.
To be recruited as a potential Cannon's team member, a recruit must be in good academic standing, and recommended by a college coach or a major league scout. This means that our community gets the opportunity to view baseball at the next level, with games being attended by College Scouts and Major League Scouts, as these are the players that will use the Valley Baseball League as their Gateway to the Majors.
Foggy: Once the player is on the team the first year, does he automatically get to come back the following year?
Brett: Much like Major League Baseball we retain the rights of any player we sign through the duration of their college eligibility; however, if a player said he wanted to play in another league, certainly I would release him. Players do sign contracts. They do not get paid and they do not get a per diem.
Foggy: What is your playing season schedule?
Brett: June and July is the playing season and post season is late July and August. There is a north and south division. The Purcellville Cannons is in the North. Our first game this season will be an away game on June 2. We will be playing the Front Royal Cardinals at Bing Crosby Stadium in Front Royal at 7pm. The next night we will have our first home game at Fireman's Field at 7pm against the New Market Rebels.
Foggy: Tell me about host families. How many more families do you need?
Brett: The roster has expanded to 30 players this year. We will have 40-42 players coming through the system this season although there are 30 active players at all times. Currently we have 12 committed host families but a lot of host families usually take more than one player. It would be nice to have another 20 host families in the fold. This is a very community-oriented venture by housing players, providing summer jobs, financially supporting the teams, and regularly attending games.
Foggy: How long has the Valley Baseball League been in existence?
Brett: Since 1897. Its one of the oldest leagues in the country aside from Cape Cod. It was founded in Edinburg, Va. as a Class D minor league. Today, the league is a member of the National Alliance of Collegiate Summer Baseball (a national affiliation of 13 college summer leagues). Although the NCAA no longer has direct involvement with summer leagues, the league still operates under NCAA rules. The league is partially funded by a grant from Major League Baseball.
The Valley League has produced over 1,100 professional baseball players, including a record 79 former players drafted in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Valley Baseball League is an opportunity to see the highest level of amateur baseball played by teams competing within a league with one of the richest histories in baseball.
Foggy: Are the players local?
Brett: This year there are two players signed so far from Purcellville and we are tracking several more through their college seasons.
Foggy: When do you start practicing?
Brett: There is no practicing. They will come to town and I will plug them in the lineup. I will study them throughout the spring. I have video, their stats and I talk with their coaches so we know the players we are getting will be able to perform at this level. The players play six nights per week. When the kids come to town, we will take them to Rob Burton's Coaches Corner here in Purcellville for a meet and greet where they meet their host families (and each other) and then they play the very next night.
Foggy: What do you want the readers to know about the new baseball team?
Brett: I want to get the word out that we have highly competitive baseball to the Loudoun County community. We are now Loudoun County's only team.
Foggy: The Playoffs are in August. Is there a division for each?
Brett: There are four teams from each division. It's one versus four and two versus three. Then divisional, then the championship series. It's the best of three. Potentially there are three playoffs. August 10 is the last day that NCAA will let us play.
Foggy: Do you have a Commissioner?
Brett: Yes, Donald L. Lemish is the Commissioner. He was the athletic director at Longwood and James Madison.
Foggy: The ticket prices are really good. How much are tickets?
Brett: Yes, early bird family season tickets right now are $40 and $45 for an individual season pass. These prices are good through April 15. Â Individual adult tickets available at the gate cost $5, Seniors (65+) tickets are $3 and children (12 & under). A season ticket is the best value and gets you into every home game, during the regular season. League has mandated that Season Tickets will not be accepted for any playoff game or the All-Star Game. Tickets may be ordered online.
Foggy: What is your greatest challenge?
Brett: To remain viable. It's a big commitment that I have to make to the Valley League that I am going to provide a venue and that I will remain viable for the regular season.
Foggy: How about community support so far?
Brett: Mark Fedor of North Gate Vineyards is allowing us to use their facility for our board meetings. We have put together a great board. We have had several sponsors step up to the plate early â€“ Loudoun Valley Floors, Maid Brigade, and most recently Addison Yacht Charters of Middleburg among others. The support is building rapidly as word spreads about the team.
Foggy: Where do you see the team going?
Brett: Our objective is to run the team like the Staunton Braves who are sponsor funded and are one of the oldest teams in the league.
Foggy: Are you planning any pre-events?
Brett: We are going to host a fundraiser on Saturday, April 2 beginning at 5:30pm at the Historic Busch Tabernacle, located next to Fireman's Field. It will be a memorabilia auction type event with live music, food, drinks, plus a Final Four viewing party. Tickets are $20 per person and may be purchased on our website (purcellvillecannons.com) or at Vocelli Pizza, Coach’s Corner Grill and Fielder’s Choice.
Brett Fuller is the owner of the Purcellville Cannons. Photo by Gazette.