HARRISONBURG — When J.J. Loker rejoined the Rockingham County Baseball League’s Elkton Blue Sox in the middle of last season after two summers with the Valley Baseball League’s Harrisonburg Turks, he didn’t like what he saw.
“I decided I wanted to make a change and turn this program around,” said Loker, who took over the managing duties this season, with help from his father, Dave Loker, and former Spotswood High School coach Mike Thompson.
A 2009 SHS graduate and Elkton native, Loker, who played at Division II South Carolina-Aiken, remembers when the Blue Sox were perennial contenders. While he didn’t play on those teams, Elkton won the RCBL pennant in 2004 and 2005 — the only times in the past 10 years that Clover Hill didn’t capture the regular-season crown.
But those Blue Sox were a distant memory compared to the squad Elkton fielded last season. At times, the Blue Sox barely had enough players to fill the diamond, and obviously had little lineup flexibility en route to a last-place finish.
“I think we only won one game when I was there,” said Loker, who joined the team right before the June 30 deadline for adding players.
So Loker, now a lifeguard at the Swift Run swimming pool in Elkton, went shopping for players in hopes of an extreme makeover. Through six games, the Blue Sox are right in the mix with a 3-3 record.
A pair of newcomers from James Madison — catcher Matt Dewitt (.417) and infielder Casey Goss (.375) — have hit well when present, while Tim Aker, a former standout at Albemarle High School, leads the team with a .545 average and spotless ERA in five innings.
Aker played for Elkton in the past, but he took last year off.
“I think he’s only going to keep getting better,” Loker said. “Timmy does it all for us. He can hit, he can run, he can pitch, throws upper 80s, good curveball.”
Loker said the Blue Sox are a pitcher or two away from being a true contender. He hopes to sign reinforcements and said he might have a JMU arm in the pipeline.
In search of both youth and experience, Loker hit the recruiting trail early. He reached out to former JMU player Bryan Lescanec — who played at Elkton a few years ago — last fall.
Lescanec remembers his first stint on the Blue Sox, when he was a college kid amidst a team of older men. Now he’s one of the veteran leaders, along with roommate Steven Michael, dispensing knowledge for his younger teammates.
A lot of the guys, if they had a bad at-bat, they would beat themselves up over it,” Lescanec said. “One thing you learn in baseball is that you can’t change what just happened. So we try to tell them, ‘If you have an error, move on.’”
You may not be able to change what just happened, but Loker has a vision to change the future. He sees Elkton as a perennial contender again, and the first few weeks of the 2013 season represent a good start. The Blue Sox have outscored opponents 36-30, suffering two of its three losses by just one run.
Can they seriously vie for a title as soon as this season?
“With the talent we have, [if] we start rolling,” Loker said. “… I mean we’ve been in every game, which is more than I can say for last year, where we’re blown out by 10 runs or something. … So we’re right in there with everybody else. …When we get everybody there all the time, we’re looking pretty good. We want to compete for a championship this year.”