With a wealth of travel teams available, not every young athlete is receptive to instruction from his or her high school coach. But when Fredericksburg Christian School’s baseball players get tips from their staff, they’re likely to listen.
“I would hope so,’ first-year head coach Jeff Petty said. “I would.”
That’s because the Eagles have assembled a staff that would be the envy of quite a few college programs, let alone public high schools. Their coaches have nearly a combined century of experience of playing and instruction, and two (Chris Stowe and Cody Wheeler) pitched professionally.
The Eagles’ staff also includes former FCS head coach Danny Beverly, a member of the University of Mary Washington’s athletic hall of fame, and Cam Capell, who played at Division II Wingate (S.C.).
“I’m interested in the community, and trying to make a difference through baseball, and this was an opportunity to do that,” Stowe said. “All the guys have different baseball backgrounds.”
Petty, who helped Courtland High School win the 2000 state championship and later played at Division II UNC Pembroke, accepted the FCS head coaching job last summer. He was already well-established in the area after founding the Hurricanes travel program, which showcased many of the top young players from the area.
One of his first stars was Wheeler, who excelled as a pitcher at Spotsylvania High School and Coastal Carolina University and briefly reached the Triple-A level in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization. He retired in 2016 and returned to the area, offering private pitching lessons and looking to make a difference.
“If you go up to Alexandria, there’s a heavy baseball foundation,” Wheeler said. “In Richmond, it’s the same thing. Here, there’s kind of a donut hole. It seems like there’s a lot of untapped talent here.”
Stowe, drafted by the Montreal Expos in the sandwich round between the first and second rounds in 1997, had established Pinnacle Baseball Academy and had crossed paths with Petty several times. Beverly also offered personal instruction, and Capell moved here after marrying a Fredericksburg native.
“When I took the job at the end of the summer, it was under the premise that Chris would be involved,” Petty said. “And Cody was interested. It just took off from there.”
Besides plenty of experience, the Eagles’ staff has virtually every base covered. Wheeler and Stowe both work with FCS’s pitchers, while Beverly is the nominal hitting coach and Capell oversees the catchers. Beverly and Stowe also instruct the infielders.
“Jeff is a great leader as far as making sure everyone has their lane,” Wheeler said. “First of all, it’s very unusual to have five coaches on a high school staff. Most have two, or sometimes just one, but everyone knows their duties.”
The Eagles don’t have much of a baseball tradition. Since the program began in 2008, the Eagles have posted just one winning season (10–6 in 2011 under Beverly).
But Petty has been impressed with his players’ dedication. He said they showed up regularly for 6 a.m. weight-lifting sessions during the fall and winter, and it paid off with a 12–1 season-opening victory over Covenant School Wednesday. Said Wheeler: “I would say we have a couple of kids that are going to really surprise people this year.”
The future also includes plans for a new facility at the school, including the area’s first turf field, scheduled to be ready for the 2020 season.
Said Stowe: “In travel baseball, there’s a lot of division. It’s nice to have coaches from different programs and backgrounds and have everybody on one team. That’s what it should be about.”