The Valley Baseball League has five former players that are currently playing in this year’s World Baseball Classic. The World Baseball Classic (WBC) is an international baseball tournament that is held every four years in stadiums throughout the world and is in partnership with MLB Baseball. The MLB and its players as well as players from other professional leagues across the world are eligible to play for their respective nations.
This year’s WBC is highlighted by five players from three different VBL franchises–The Woodstock Riverbandits, Charlottesville TomSox and the Harrisonburg Turks. Vinnie Pasquantino of the Kansas City Royals and Charlottesville TomSox represents Team Italy. William Escala of Miami (OH) University and the Woodstock Riverbandits represents the Czech Republic. Nick Ward of the Philadelphia Phillies and the Woodstock Riverbandits represents Great Britain. Emilio Pagan of the Minnesota Twins and the Harrisonburg Turks represents Team Puerto Rico. Michael Wielansky, VBL MVP of 2017, played for the College of Wooster and the Charlottesville TomSox is representing Team Israel.
The headliners of the five VBL’ers are the two Major Leaguers of the group– Vinnie Pasquantino and Emilio Pagan. Beginning with Pasquantino, he played for the Charlottesville TomSox in 2017 while attending Old Dominion University. For the TomSox that season, Vinnie hit .336 with 4 HRs, 30 RBI, and BB/K of 14/15. The TomSox went on to win the coveted Lineweaver Cup and were crowned champions of the VBL. He was drafted out of ODU in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB draft by the Kansas City Royals. Vinnie went on to make his MLB debut last summer for the Kansas City Royals on June 28th and went on to hit .295 with 1o HRs and 26 RBI at the big-league level.
Second, we have MLB reliever Emilio Pagan who currently is on the staff of the Minnesota Twins. Pagan played for the Harrisonburg Turks in 2010 under the coaching of VBL’s longest tenured coach–Bob Wease. Pagan came to the Turks by way of Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina. Pagan later transferred to Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, NC where he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 10th Round of the 2013 MLB Draft. Pagan made his MLB debut on May 3, 2017, with the Mariners at home versus the Los Angles Angels. Since his debut, Pagan has played for the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays, San Diego Padres, and the Minnesota Twins. During his 6 years in the MLB, he has pitched to a career ERA of 3.86 with 391 strikeouts over 330.2 innings pitched.
William Escala has been on quite a journey in his amateur baseball career. Escala started his collegiate journey at the University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL), but then entered the transfer portal and signed with Barry University. This past year, Willie was back in the portal and landed at Miami (OH) University as a graduate student. He first appeared in the VBL following his sophomore year at Miami (FL) university for the Woodstock Riverbandits during the 2019 season. During the 2019 VBL season, Willie hit .348 with 7 doubles, 2 triples and 8 stolen bases. Escala was returned to the VBL in 2021 with the Riverbandits, this time representing Barry University and hit .252 with 2 HR, 2 Triples, and 3 doubles.
Another Riverbandit will be in the WBC and its none other than Nick Ward. Ward played in the VBL for Woodstock during the 2016 season. Nick hit .387 with 5HR and 24 RBI that season for the Riverbandits. He led the league in Batting Average, On-base percentage, and Hits. He was second in the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage. Nick was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 34th round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
The fifth VBL’er in the WBC is Michael Wielansky. Wielansky set the VBL on fire in 2017 and was named MVP of the League. He came to the TomSox by way of the Fighting Scots of Wooster College. It was a clear choice when deciding who the best hitter in the VBL was that summer. Michael hit and absurd .432 with 38 runs scored, 18 doubles, 4 triples, and 4 homeruns while driving in 34 runs. He finished 1st in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases, doubles, hits, and runs scored. He was first in eight offensive categories and finished in the top five in two others. His season was so remarkable that he etched his name all over the VBL record books. John Leonard of All Things Valley League said, “His season was so amazing that he entered the league record book (from 2004) in 6 categories: batting average (1st), runs (tied for 4th), hits (tied for 1st), doubles (tied for 2nd), triples (tied for 10th), and total bases (6th). Holy smokes!” He was taken by the Houston Astros in the 18th round of the 2018 MLB Draft.