Fall Classic still going strong

Until her husband, Jerry, died in May 1995, Brenda Gardziel was heavily involved in the Fall Classic he created. She did much of the typing and computer work as the event drew an assortment of high school baseball talent along with college coaches and major league scouts.

“I really took a back seat and then after Jerry’s death, I had to become a lot more involved,” she said. “I don’t know what spoke out to me, but I just think he’d be very proud to know it’s still going on. I guess that’s the incentive.”

Jerry Gardziel’s Fall Classic, named for the former Potomac High School coach who went 201-23 before retiring in 1991, is now in its 17th year. The showcase, originally played on a snowy weekend in November 1986 at Potomac, has found a home since 1990 at Pfitzner Stadium, where games will be played from today through Sunday.

Players from as far away as California and Nevada represent the 12 entries this year. Games are designed for coaches and scouts to get a look at the players. As Team Virginia (and current Potomac) coach Mike Covington points out, “Lately, we don’t even turn the scoreboard on.”

This batch of high school juniors and seniors will no doubt include a few players who wind up making it big. Among the for mer Gardziel players are Boston outfielder Manny Ramirez, Atlanta pitcher Jason Marquis (chosen as the Most Impressive Player in 1995) and Oakland closer Billy Koch.

Three former area standouts also went from the Fall Classic to the majors — Michael Colangelo, Brian Fitzgerald and Mike Matthews. And Johnny Hernandez, starting outfielder for the Carolina League’s Potomac Cannons this year, was the Most Impressive Player in 1997.

Most years, two area teams are assembled. Though approximately 100 players tried out last month according to Covington, only one local team is on display this weekend. No tournament champion is named, as each team plays three games and the schedule is kept on two-hour intervals.

“We felt like we were getting a little watered down,” Covington said. “We have fewer players to choose from because some of the better players are with travel teams. And the trend right now around the area is that a majority of the teams are pretty young — the players here are just juniors and seniors.”

Team Virginia features four players from Forest Park and North Stafford; three from Potomac; two from Gar-Field, Osbourn Park, Colonial Forge and Courtland; and one from Spotsylvania.

“I don’t really know what to expect. This is my first one of these,” OP junior third baseman Adam Kearney said. “I just know there will be a lot of good ballplayers there, so it can only help. I’ve been playing Legion, AAU and fall ball [for OP] since the season ended. So this will be another good chance to play.”

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Kearney impressed Yellow Jacket coaches this spring while working out as a catcher. About a quarter of the way through the season, he joined the lineup as a strong-armed third baseman. Kearney and the rest of the players who tried out for Team Virginia found out about the Fall Classic even before leaving school in June.

“We tried to let them know before school was out when tryouts were going to be,” said Brenda Gardziel, who retired in June 2000 from teaching second grade at Neabsco Elementary School. “I had always sent a letter to athletic directors and coaches letting them know, but this year we did it a little bit earlier. That seemed to work out well.”

This year’s Fall Classic has a sponsor for the first time in Stafford County-based Ridgewood Homes. The Fall Classic has contributed more than $30,000 to various programs to benefit Prince William County’s student athletes. The event also awards two $500 college scholarships each year — this time to former Potomac baseball player Kyle Mahan (Frostburg State) and former Gar-Field track athlete Tamara Lee (Cornell).

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