Billy Wagner and Jimmy Gobble unleashed their final pitches as professional baseball players in 2010, and the southpaws from Southwest Virginia who have since entered the coaching profession found themselves on opposing sides Friday.
Wagner’s Miller School Mavericks (10-10-1) hosted the Gobble-led John Battle Trojans (9-2) on Friday in a unique matchup between high school squads led by guys from the area who once played Major League Baseball. In the end, the Mavericks blocked the Trojans out, with a final score of Miller 4, John Battle 0. JonAlan Richardson, Evan Hankins and Will Purifoy drew walks and were the only base runners for Battle, which fell to 9-3. Hankins also pitched two scoreless innings of relief with two strikeouts.
How did this trip to Charlottesville come about for Battle?
“I wanted to find some place to go, whether that be tournament-related or something that would be a cool experience for our players,” Gobble said. “In the COVID year , our parents had done a really good job, and we had fundraised to go to a tournament in Myrtle Beach. That got taken away, so I wanted to create something for the kids that was going to be memorable and play some teams we hadn’t played before. On a whim, really, I just called Billy and asked if he wanted to do this, and it worked out.”
People are also reading…
Battle also played St. Anne’s Belfield School on Saturday, where they had more luck and earned a 17-4 victory over St. Anne’s. That brought them to a 10-3 season win streak. The Trojans pushed across nine first-inning runs on Saturday. Senior Jon Alan Richardson went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and the Bluefield State College signee also scored four runs.
Evan Hankins homered for Battle, while Nolan Sailor (2-for-4, two RBIs), Will Purifoy (3-for-3, two RBIs), Broadie Bailey (two runs) and winning pitcher Porter Gobble (two runs) also played well. Bailey, Gobble, Jackson Gayle and Noah Sills also drove in runs.
Wagner was equally as enthusiastic about Friday’s rare matchup for the Mavericks against an opponent from his old stomping grounds.
“It’s always good to see Jimmy and play quality competition,” Wagner said earlier in the week. “I am looking forward to a fun night, and I will get to see a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time from down there who are headed up our way.”
Freshman first baseman/pitcher Evan Hankins of Battle is a University of Tennessee commit and his father, Donnie, attended Tazewell High School with Billy Wagner.
“It’ll be good to see them,” Wagner said. “I am sure John Battle will be well-coached, and we will have to play our tails off.”
Wagner is hoping for a better outcome than the last time he faced the Trojans. He allowed a walk-off RBI hit in the bottom of the seventh inning to Battle’s David Ball in Tazewell’s 4-3 loss to the bunch from Bristol in the first round of the 1988 Region IV tournament.
“I remember losing,” Wagner said. “I also remember how good their program was, and it was always exciting to play against that type of competition.”
Wagner hasn’t done much losing at Miller School as he has led the program to three Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA) state championships and churned out a number of NCAA Division I players in his 11 seasons of coaching.
“Coaching isn’t just about winning games. You just want to see everybody do well, and you get caught up in making sure the kids learn how to overcome adversity and be successful,” Wagner said. “That’s where I’m at, I’ve embraced it, and I’ve enjoyed it. When you have a great mentor in [legendary Tazewell coach] Lou Peery, I’m fortunate some of that rubbed off. I miss not being able to call and get advice from him.”
Billy’s youngest son, Kason, is a freshman for the Mavericks.
His oldest son, Will, is playing for the High-A Asheville Tourists in the Houston Astros minor league system, and his other son, Jeremy, plays collegiately at Austin Peay.
As for this year’s edition of the Mavericks, Miller has played such prominent powerhouses as McCallie and Baylor from Tennessee, as well as the Hoover Buccaneers from Alabama.
James Madison University-bound T.J. Brooks and junior Noah Murray are among the stars for the team.
“ e’ve probably played the toughest schedule we’ve ever had,” Wagner said. “In terms of just tough competition on a weekly basis.”
A guy who nailed down 422 saves during a 16-season MLB career with five teams is certainly not one to back down from a challenge.
“Billy’s playing career was impressive, and in my opinion, he’s a Hall of Famer,” Gobble said. “For him to give back to that school in the community he lives now and to have the program he has is really unique and honorable.”
“We want that experience and we want to see the best caliber talent with our non-district schedule,” Gobble said. “We’ll go up north a little bit and see how we compare.”
Gobble and Wagner first met in 2004 when the former was with the Kansas City Royals and the latter was starring for the Philadelphia Phillies and have been friends ever since.
They both were first-round draft picks, they were both left-handed pitchers in the big leagues, and they both are now teaching the game to a new generation.
“I have a lot of respect for Billy and we have kept in touch and seen each other here and there in the baseball spectrum,” Gobble said. “I’m excited, and hopefully we can make this a yearly thing.”