November 6 - When I first met Josh Gjormand, he was 3 years old. It was 2005, and I was in my first season coaching as an assistant under his father, Pudge, at Madison High School.
It didn’t take me long to realize that Josh was going to have a long relationship with the game of baseball. He was the son of a coach who was well on his way to becoming a baseball icon in Vienna and in Northern Virginia. That would certainly allow for him to be around the game, to learn the game from an early age, and to either embrace the game - or resent it. Not all coaches’ sons, after all, grow up to dig the game as much as their pops.
A fixture at Madison’s practices and games and at the summer camps his father runs, Josh immersed himself in the game as he came up in the Reston Little League and with the MVP Terps and MVP Royals travel teams. Early on, Pudge would boast proudly of how advanced his son’s knowledge was of the many intricacies the game offered - how many elementary school kids do you know who study a pitcher’s move? Or try and pick up an opposing team’s signs? He latched onto Pudge’s deep network of coaches, learning pitching from the likes of Morgan Spencer, John Thomas, J.J. Hollenbeck, Jason Farley and Justin Counts, hitting from Counts, Galvin Morris and Scott Rowland, base running from Andrew Baird and T.J. Ehrsam, and how to initially adapt to the high school game from Warhawks JV coach Robbie Robeson.
But despite being around all that knowledge, it wasn’t always easy.
As anyone who has played for Pudge will tell you, he can be tough. The coach consistently demands your best, and that is a major reason for the success of his teams. It’s also what makes him at times hard to play for, and some kids over the past two decades have backed down from those expectations. The one’s who haven’t have helped him build one of the state’s top programs. It’s like Tom Hanks said in ‘A League of Their Own’, “The hard is what makes it great”.
Josh has spent his childhood around that intimidating presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I witnessed the tough love several times, and have often wondered how I would have responded in the same situation. Pudge hasn’t created a ‘Daddy Ball’ environment for his sons - Josh or his younger brother, Trevor - to coast through the game with every advantage and having things handed to them. It’s probably accepted that he was harder on Josh than any of his players, and wanted to ensure he earned everything he was given. It’s been tough love, but in the end, it’s simply been love.
And what his sons maybe don’t always know is that their father - the skipper with the enormous presence dubbed for years as the “Mayor of Vienna” - can be a big softie and lights up when their names are brought up by his coaching buddies. As hard as Pudge has pushed Josh, he’s also the first one to praise him.
And that praise certainly doesn’t come exclusively from his father.
“I have literally watched Josh grow up on the baseball field and I couldn’t be more proud of the things he has accomplished,” Spencer said. “He has always been an extremely hard and motivated player. It can’t be easy growing up in the shadows of the best coach in Northern Virginia, let alone playing for him as your dad. I know it hasn’t been easy, [and] he earned every bit of playing time he got.”
Added Baird, the former Stone Bridge coach who has returned to Madison’s staff, via Twitter: “For the last 18 [years], I have watched a boy grow into an amazing young man. I got a call from him tonight thanking me for my help over the years and that he had committed to further his baseball career at Lynchburg … I am very proud of you and excited for you.”
Josh never backed down from the pressure of being Pudge’s son. He embraced it, overcame the “coaches’ son” label through his play on the field, and did so while growing up in a championship-hungry baseball community. He’s grown some thick skin, a trait that was never more evident then when he heard criticism of his father from other players, parents or members of the community - which somehow exists despite over 400 wins and two state titles. He simply used that as fuel and continued about his business with the quiet confidence that now defines him as a player.
“He’s a tough competitor on the mound and at the plate,” Rowland said. “He approaches the game the right way, and it’s obvious he comes to play every game.”
Josh mastered the left-handed pickoff move largely from his work with Spencer, the southpaw head coach at South Lakes who set pickoff records in high school and college and the reason he chose to wear No. 18 at Madison. He learned how to be efficient - he tossed a 53-pitch, 6-inning complete game against Chantilly last spring - and to locate multiple pitches from the likes of Counts, Madison’s longtime pitching coach, and Thomas, the new skipper at Lake Braddock who coached him on several youth teams.
“He plays the game as hard as he can every time he takes the field and backs down from no one,” Thomas said. “His overall baseball IQ and feel for the game is off the charts for a high school kid. I’d take nine of him any day of the week.”
He’s grown up in the epitome of a baseball family: both parents have baseball-themed personalized license plates; his older sister, Samantha, was the Warhawks’ team manager and now holds the same duties at JMU; vacations are based around baseball tournaments and trips; and he’s spent maybe 100 (or more?) games in his father’s seats along the third base line at Nationals Park. Growing up, Josh had two dozen de facto older brothers on the Warhawks that he was around for four months beginning each February. He studied their games and how they prepared. Now, he’s one of those Warhawks in his final year at the school and passing that knowledge onto his younger brother.
Josh has battled a lack of physical stature - he’s 5-foot-10 and maybe 160 pounds - with a fastball that might reach 80 MPH on a good day. Nonetheless, he hit his way into a second-team Region 6D selection as a first baseman last spring, and on the mound finds ways to miss bats while shutting down the running game. He’s an outstanding defender who routinely bails fellow infielders out by picking errant throws, and provides on-field leadership as an extension of the coaching staff.
Late last month, we saw the culmination of a lifetime of hard work and preparation when he accepted an offer to play at the University of Lynchburg. For many of us, it was the next - and perhaps, most important - step in who we first knew as a youngster becoming a man.
“It finally sunk in that my little boy is a senior when he made that call to [Lynchburg] coach [Lucas] Jones on Monday night to commit,” Pudge wrote on his Facebook page. “So proud of the way he goes about his business and the young man he's become!”
Added Spencer: “He is an extremely smart and tough little player, Lynchburg is getting a great young man and player. He is tough as nails, has a desire to win, and most importantly, knows how to win.”
Congratulations Josh, you’ve made a lot of people involved in Northern Virginia baseball very proud. Including this writer.
Photos of Josh Gjormand by Albert Jacquez