Royals 40th Anniversary
39 illustrious summers of college baseball have come and gone for the Winchester Royals. June 1st marks the beginning of the organization’s 40th season. Much like the game of baseball, the Royals have experienced an ample amount of change and growth over the past four decades.
Some 150 or so players have been drafted and/or signed to play professional baseball after their tenures with the Royals. Collectively, 31 players have been promoted to a Major League roster. Mark Davidson, Reggie Sanders, Jimmy Key, Adam Everett, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Cory Spangenberg and Tyler Thornburg are among those who made the 'show'.
The Royals have produced league pennants in 28 percent of its seasons while being crowned Valley Baseball League champions 13 times. Three of those championships were produced by the first ever manager of Winchester, Larry Bryant.
“It was quite a thrill and an honor for me to be Winchester’s first manager,” Bryant said. “(The team) got reputation of ‘the new guy in town’.”
After Bryant’s fifth season at the helm of Georgia Southern College, Royals owner at the time Keith Lupton chose him to lead Winchester’s first-ever collegiate summer league ball club.
“I met Keith in a motel in Savannah and we talked for probably three hours,” Bryant said.
“Everything went well in that initial interview. He called me not much longer and said ‘Larry we would love to have you as our manager.’”
Bryant’s tenure lasted three seasons (1979-1981); all of them resulted in league championships. He accumulated a 106-37 record in that time frame and coached the organization’s first no-hitter, thrown by Clay Daniel in 1981.
“I got the best players I could get. Besides talent, I think (we had) a lot of chemistry. We had a great three-year run with players that gelled together,” Bryant said.
Despite the success, the fondest memories of his experience with the Royals were the people.
“The players, the community, the support. I got close to several families,” Bryant said.
The Royals won the next two VBL championships in the first two years post-Bryant. After winning five championships in as many years of existence, Winchester won four more from 1987-1993. The most recent championship came in 2004.
June 3rd marks the 12 year anniversary of the Royals’ first-ever perfect game, thrown by Paul Burnside in 2006. On Opening Night, he struck out 14 of the 27 batters he faced en route a 2-0 victory over Front Royal.
All of this success is partially due to Bryant. He was the catalyst of this winning culture. When he handed the team over in 1981, he had full confidence in future managers to maintain this high standard.
“You always had that optimistic hope. I felt like Winchester had a lot of potential down the road,” Bryant said. “With the facilities and where it’s located, it’s a manager’s dream.”
Around the early 2010’s, a first baseman from University of Delaware named Jimmy Yezzo made his way to Winchester. A coach from his alma mater had a connection to the Royals and he jumped at the first offer he was given.
“I hopped on board and was excited to get down there and get rolling with it. I didn’t really wait for anything else to come in. They were first and that was what I went with,” Yezzo said.
In 2012, Yezzo experienced a historic summer, setting single-season records in doubles (21), at-bats (218) and games played (52).
“Playing in Winchester was some of the best times I had as a ballplayer. We had a great group of guys and a great coaching staff. It was a pleasure to play there,” Yezzo said.
At his junior year at Delaware, Yezzo received a call that he got drafted by the Washington Nationals. He went on to play three seasons of minor league baseball before finishing his baseball career with a season and a half in an independent professional league.
“I couldn’t be more thankful for my time with the (Winchester Royals),” Yezzo said.
New Look Royals
Winchester will be riding an entirely new coaching staff and roster this summer in search of their first pennant since 2012 and first championship since 2004. There is a plethora of exciting players that make the Royals a sleeper to rival the defending champion Charlottesville TomSox.
“I tried to come in with an open mind and that seemed to work out well,” Yezzo said when asked about the advice he had for this year’s team.
Winchester begins their 2018 campaign with a home game against the Strasburg Express on Friday June 1st. First pitch at Bridgeforth Field is scheduled for 7 p.m.