JAMES CITY – One of new Williamsburg Post 39 manager Doug Mitchell's assistant coaches recently expressed concern about the American Legion baseball team's cohesion with the season freshly underway.
An ensemble of ballplayers representing multiple area high schools and colleges annually comprises Post 39. With four consecutive Third District titles under previous manager Tom Richardson, the Wildflowers developed a penchant for meshing seamlessly over the course of a summer.
Usually, it doesn't take very long. That's why Mitchell's response was, "Just wait."
Wednesday in its home opener at Jamestown High, Post 39 improved to 2-1 with a 10-2 win over Deltaville Post 241, and showed traces of unity Mitchell has faith is inevitable.
"They're starting to gel," Mitchell said. "They're starting to play as a team. And hitting is contagious. You get one guy up there getting a hit and the next thing you know, it's going to roll right on down the line."
Mitchell is in his first summer at the helm of the team, but he served as a coach with Richardson the past six seasons. The colorful "Post 39 family" tattoo emblazoned on Mitchell's left forearm encapsulates the tradition of the club and the reverence its loyal members pay it.
Mitchell got the ink shortly after the death of Post 39 assistant Roscoe Bierbrauer, who acted as the team's manager in the state tournament, leading the Wildflowers (15-5 last summer) to their first win there in four seasons.
The gregarious Bierbrauer, who battled cancer throughout last summer, was a beloved member of the program and close friend of Richardson. His death in September shook Post 39 and the Williamsburg baseball community, and Bierbrauer's presence still looms large.
Post 39's Roger Romero and Brad Vandygriff, also former Jamestown teammates, were among a select group of Post 39 players that regularly visited Bierbrauer in hospice the final week of is life.
"I play for him every day," Romero said. "Every day I think about him when I play out here. I wear his number on my arm, on my hat … I definitely feel like it's an influence for us, not only me, but all the role players that were here last year — and the JV guys who didn't know him as well — but they knew how much of an influence he was on 39 Baseball and how much we are a family."
"Roger and I dedicated the Jamestown season to him, too," Vandygriff said. "He had a big impact on our lives. We just play for him every day."
Vandygriff earned the win on the mound Wednesday, tossing 6 2/3 innings, striking out 11 and allowing five hits.
Michael Schmidt relieved Vandygriff, finished out the game and struck out four without giving up a hit.
Vandygriff pitched sparingly for 4A semifinalist Jamestown while Schmidt only played in the field for the Eagles.
Conversely, Ryan Devine was in Jamestown's starting pitching rotation and had only a couple of at-bats all season, but led Post 39 with two hits and two RBIs Wednesday as a shortstop.
Tyler Floyd also had a couple of RBIs and for Post 39.
Mitchell said that was the first time in a few years Devine has seen time at shortstop, but the Wildflowers were down several players for the game because of vacation trips and needed a fill-in.
"I see that year after year after year," Mitchell said. "These kids will come in and it's just an aura about Post 39. These kids will just step up and pull something out of them. It's just amazing to watch them."
Richardson said he couldn't choose a better person to take over Post 39 than Mitchell. As his former high school rival, Mitchell played at Hampton High and Richardson at Phoebus, and the pair later played softball together.
Richardson is still involved with Post 39, acting as quasi-general manager, but elected to step away after the death of Bierbrauer, who would have turned 44 on Friday. Instead, Richardson wanted to spend more time with his family and focused on coaching his son's youth team that also featured Bierbrauer's son.
Richardson will still be around the diamond, though, and attended Wednesday's match.
"You actually have to fight in a war to be a Legionnaire," Richardson said. "So to represent the Legionnaires of Williamsburg and to represent the kids of Williamsburg -- It doesn't get any more American than that."
The new crop of coaches for Post 39, which hosts Poquoson Wednesday, includes Jordan Wills, Blake Wills, Thomas Richardson, and Kyle Klyman.
Kyle's son, Kent, couldn't play for Post 39 this summer after starring for Jamestown in the spring. He had to report for summer school at N.C. State, where he will begin pitching for the Wolfpack in the fall. Liberty University recruit Chris Jones, another former Jamestown and Post 39 player, will also soon head to summer school.
A couple of more Post 39 products, Sean Hughes (Jamestown/Boston College) and Adam Emerson (Lafayette/Christopher Newport University), are scheduled to help out with the Junior Legion squad.
And in addition to honoring Bierbrauer, Post 39 will also pay homage this season to alumnus Spencer Garrett, who died tragically in December.
Even with the changes, this summer won't be about starting over for Post 39, according to Romero and Mitchell.
"We're just carrying on tradition," Mitchell said.
Post 39 roster: Wyatt Delong (New Kent), Cameron Downner (New Kent), Adam Slyter (Jamestown), Matt Lansford (Jamestown), Brennan Gray (New Kent), Zach Calloway (Bruton), Ryan Devine (Jamestown), Cole Jones (Jamestown/Coastal Carolina club team), Tyler Floyd (Bruton/Virginia Wesleyan), Ryan Mason (Jamestown/Bridgewater College), Josh Nellis (Jamestown), Mason Tate (New Kent), Beau LeJeune (Walsingham Academy/University of Tampa), Michael Schmidt (Jamestown), Brad Vandygriff (Jamestown), Steven Carpenter (New Kent), Roger Romero (Jamestown), Christian Hanby (New Kent).
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.