Kamide’s Korner: Harper’s (Br)exit Could be Snyder, Guyer’s Gain

March 5 - Count me among those disappointed that Bryce Harper chose to sign with the Phillies and won’t be returning to the middle of the Nationals’ order this year. For me, Harper’s at-bats were must-see anytime I was able to take in a Nats game.

Several years ago, I took a date to a game and we were late arriving to Nationals Park. Of course, the Baseball Gods punished me and we missed Harper homering in the first inning. A few innings later, painfully-slow bartending at the Red Porch cost me his second upper-deck bomb that day.

After that, whenever I was watching or listening to a Nats game, I ensured I was tuned in to his at-bats. I also stopped seeing that young lady - us baseball guys are superstitious, after all, and there was just too much bad juju involved with missing two Harper homers while attending our first game together.

The emotion shown by area baseball fans over the past week demonstrates how polarizing a figure Harper was while in D.C. - love him or hate him, you were and likely will continue to be drawn to him. He’s a generational talent and has that “it” factor that makes it hard to take your eyes off him when he’s in the batter’s box. Who knows if the Nats will be better or worse off without him - you certainly won’t struggle to find commentary online covering that topic - but one thing is for sure, I’ll miss watching him wear the Curly W on his cap.

While Harper’s exit has resulted in varying emotions locally, it could lead to some positive news for Northern Virginia fans.

Over the winter, Washington signed former Westfield star Brandon Snyder to a minor league deal and invited him to big league camp as he tries to make the Majors with a sixth team. If Harper had re-signed with the Nats, that likely would have sealed Snyder’s fate as a Triple-A guy to start the year. Instead, Snyder, who in spring training has logged more time than anyone in Harper’s old post in right field, could make the club as the Nats’ fifth outfielder and a backup option at both corner infield spots.

Snyder has certainly taken advantage of Harper’s absence. His go-ahead grand slam was the difference in a 10-6 win over the Twins on Saturday, and he entered the day hitting .286 with six RBI in 18 at-bats this spring.

Also affected by Harper’s decision is Brandon Guyer, the former Herndon and UVA standout.

The White Sox were rumored to be in on the Bryce Sweepstakes (as well as Manny Machado), but by not landing him, Guyer’s chances of making the club improved after he was signed in early February to a minor league deal with an invite to camp. Guyer, the former Rays and Indians outfielder, is back in the lineup today as a DH after missing 10 days with right elbow soreness, and he is hoping to make Chicago’s roster in a platoon role against lefties.

Like many baseball fans in our area, I’ll miss Harp. But I’ve already moved on, and I’ve found a new guy that’ll motivate me to get to the ballpark on time. I’ve got my Juan Soto T-shirt on order.

Hopefully, I’ll also have my Snyder and Guyer T-shirts on order early next month.

Kamide’s Korner: College Coaches, Swept Up in Showcase Game, Forget an Important Call

December 4 - Several fractures exist in the current recruiting landscape. One that’s an easy fix is for college coaches to re-establish a dialogue with the baseball figure who spends the most time around their recruit … his high school coach.

I’ve heard of and been witness to several instances over the past few years of players making college commitments without their high school coach getting so much as a phone call or email from anyone from the coaching staff at the institution they’re committing to. What? Why? How can that be?

I should preface this column by stating that I’m a travel - or “showcase” - coach and generally work with sophomores, juniors and seniors. I enjoy and embrace the recruiting process, establishing a dialogue with college coaches who are interested in guys who play for me, but always make a point to suggest they also contact his high school coach. I’m around the recruit 2-3 days a week for 7-8 weeks in the summer and/or fall. His high school coach is with him six days a week for over three months each spring, and then a number of times during offseason workouts and practices.

Who is going to have the better perspective? The answer is easy.

A player’s high school coach is a resource that has, unfortunately, become under-utilized during the rise of the travel and showcase circuit. It’s great that college coaches lean on a player’s summer or fall coach - many are very qualified and can give great insight - but what’s the drawback in also involving his high school coach?

An incoming recruit is an investment a coach, program and an institution are making, potentially with a coach’s job security on the line. Would you buy a used car without running a CARFAX check and taking it for a test drive? Committing a player based on one outing or weekend at a showcase event is like backing the car out of the parking spot, then re-parking and signing the papers. If it’s been a couple years since you’ve purchased a new pair of jeans, would you buy them without trying them on, knowing you’ve added a few pounds to the waist line? If so, be sure to hold onto your receipt.

Speaking with a high school coach can calm any doubts you may have about him on the field, and can better answer any questions you may have about him off the field … especially if the high school coach works at his school and is around him in an academic and social environment.

I have coaching buddies who have been at it for decades - have won state championships - and yet don’t get a call during the recruiting process. I’ve heard of kids who hit under .250 over a 20-25 game high school season getting scholarships based on them getting hot for one game or weekend at a showcase event. And of pitchers who struggle to get through more than a couple innings against competition in the spring, then hit a certain velocity and strike a few guys out in a summer outing … and they get an offer based on that.

It hurts trust and relationships between high school and college coaches, yields incomplete assessments of players, and in general, simply isn’t a professional way of going about one’s business.

There needs to be some sweeping changes in the recruiting game - and some are on the way via the NCAA, from what I’ve been told - but this one is an easy fix that can be made by the college coaches themselves.

Make the call.

Kamide’s Korner: Latest Mass Shooting Hits Home For Everyone in Baseball Community

November 10 - There was nobody that represented what America should be more than Cody Coffman. And yet, it is today’s America that has taken him from us.

Only 22, Cody was one of the 12 victims of the mass shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, CA on Wednesday night. He was a USSSA umpire and the chief umpire for the Camarillo Pony Baseball youth league, wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat around town, and planned to enlist in the Army. He had three young brothers that looked up to him, and a little sister on the way, due to be born at the end of the month.

She will never get to meet him.

Blake Dingman was 21 years old, a former baseball player at nearby Hillcrest Christian School. He was also one of the victims killed on Wednesday night.

This column isn’t directly related to Northern Virginia, which is what I generally write about. I don’t care. This latest shooting, which occurred some 2,700 miles away on the other side of the country, should hit home for anyone involved in the game of baseball. Mass shootings have become the norm in our country, they represent what apparently is the new America.

Coffman was a leader who "loved working with the kids,” commented an umpiring colleague. He died while attempting to protect others, according to several reports. By all accounts, and I’ve read and watched several online these past two days, he had a tremendous future ahead of him. Dingman was described by his high school coach in a story in the Thousand Oaks Acorn as someone with a “magnetic personality,” adding that, “He loved the game of baseball but he loved his friends and family even more.”

It’s got to stop. For parents in our area, simply go online and watch the video of Coffman’s father, who was donning a Los Angeles Dodgers hat in front of reporters when he revealed that his son was one of the victims. The man had just had his life ripped to shreds, and watching him is heartbreaking. That could be any of you. Cody and Blake could be any of us.

Just a few days before Veterans Day Weekend, two military veterans - a former Navy SEAL and former Marine - were among those killed in the shooting. The shooter was also a military veteran, reportedly suffering from PTSD. Since the shooting at the Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 90 people have been shot in 12 mass shootings in the United States - and 36 died. One of the shootings occurred in Watertown, N.Y., where my cousin is a police officer. A police officer at the Thousand Oaks shooting was also one of the victims after reporting to the scene and entering the bar in attempt to halt the shooter. That sure gives me pause.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I am pro guns, and that I’m a republican who voted for Donald Trump. And while our President does, says or tweets something each day to make me question that ballot, my ability to defend our laws regarding firearms also wanes.

It’s one of the biggest issues facing our country today, and something needs to change.

We had two taken from our extended baseball family on Wednesday night. Our military, celebrating their brothers this weekend, now mourns additional unnecessary losses. This morning, the league that Coffman umpired for will be holding a moment of silence at 7:50 a.m. their time - 10:50 a.m. EST - at Veterans Field in Camarillo, CA’s Freedom Park. I challenge everyone reading this column to take that moment to reflect on what’s important in your life, and what it would be like to have that taken away in an instant.

I know I will be.

Rest in peace, Cody and Blake. Many of our readers are thousands of miles away, but very much present with your loved ones and with heavy hearts this morning.

Photos of Blake Dingman, left, and Cody Coffman, right, courtesy of their respective families

Kamide’s Korner: The Evolution of Josh Gjormand, College Ballplayer

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.

Josh did.

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