Grays Get Close Vs. South County; Searching For First Win Against Bethesda Friday Night
After two dismal defeats to open the Cal Ripken Collegiate League season, the DC Grays played better on Thursday against the Metro-South County Braves at the Nationals Youth Academy. The pitching was credible, there were some timely hits and a handful of sparkling defensive plays. The end result, however, was the same – a loss, this time a taut 7-5 extra-inning affair that dropped the Grays to 0-3 on the still-young season.
The visiting Braves came from behind late in the game, tying the score at five in the seventh on a passed ball. The score stayed that way for several innings, thanks to some gutsy relief pitching for both teams. The go-ahead run for the Braves was scored on a throwing error, and then the Braves tacked on an insurance run for good measure. The Grays went down easily in the bottom of the 11th.
There were some bright spots for the Grays, including four hits from Henry Zipay (Nebraska-Omaha) and a pair of hits from Patrick Vandenbergh (Lafayette). Two relievers shined on the mound for DC. Sam Stratton (Wofford) threw three innings of one-run relief, and Kai Leckszas (Georgetown) threw a pair of shutout innings with four strikeouts. Aaron Thomas (Wofford) made a pair of terrific plays in right field.
An early season run of home games for DC continues tonight, as the Grays take on the defending league champion Bethesda Big Train at 7:00pm at the Academy.
Falling behind early during its 2022 season opener on Tuesday night, the DC Grays showed some early growing pains courtesy of their 12-0 defeat by the Gaithersburg Giants at Criswell Automotive Field.
The Grays were held scoreless for the first time since June 11, 2019, which ended a nearly three-year long streak by three Giants pitchers – Michael Standen, Justin Carden and Caleb Guisewite.
Left fielder Donovan Frayer (Shorter), however, recorded the first hit of the Grays’ season in the second inning, picking up right where he left off in 2021 when he hit .400 (10-for-25) with a pair of homers in the team’s final nine games. He later singled in the fifth inning, finishing the night 2-for-4.
Catcher Logan Scully (George Mason) and designated hitter Brian Depman (Georgetown) recorded the other two hits for the Grays. Depman singled in the top of the third with the score still tied at 0.
Once the Grays fell behind 5-0, Frayer and Scully attempted to start a rally when the two reached on back-to-back singles to open the fifth inning. After a pop out, the inning was short-lived when the two were erased on a 1-4-3 double play.
The night didn’t go any smoother for the Grays, who yielded seven more runs in the final three innings to fall in the seven-inning shortened game.
The Grays will look to rebound during their home opener on Wednesday evening at the Washington Nationals Youth Academy. The Alexandria Aces come to town with first pitch set for 7:00 p.m.
Grays Alumni in the Pros
Photo: (BYU Athletics)
Since its inception in 2012, the DC Grays have had a successful line of players march through Southeast Washington and onto the Major League Draft with hopes of playing professional baseball. Since 2015, seven Grays alumni have signed pro contracts – five of whom were drafted by Major League clubs. Find out where some of our alums are today!
Colton Shaver – 2015
Catcher and corner infielder Colton Shaver (BYU) came to DC after a standout freshman year with the Cougars in 2015, hitting .313 with a 1.000 OPS in 53 games. With the Grays, he was an on-base machine, drawing 25 walks in 36 games – good for a .415 on-base-percentage. Since leaving DC, Shaver went on to play in the Cape Cod League and was selected in the 39th round by the Houston Astros in 2017. The Astros sent him to the Arizona Fall League in 2019 – an off-season league filled with baseball’s best prospects – and Shaver reached as high as Triple-A in 2021. He is now with the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League.
Maverik Buffo – 2015
Pitcher Maverik Buffo, who was Shaver’s teammate with the Grays and at BYU, pitched to a 3.22 ERA in 36 ⅓ innings in DC. He was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 34th round in 2017. He pitched in the Jays system for three seasons before being released in April 2019, making it to High-A and then the Arizona Fall League in 2019. Buffo didn’t play during the height of the pandemic in 2020, but returned to the mound in 2021 for the Cleburne Railroaders (American Association).
Darren Baker – 2017
You might remember Darren Baker (California) from the 2002 World Series when he ran on to the field to collect a bat in the midst of play as a bat boy for the San Francisco Giants. Or you might recognize his last name, because, well, his dad managed the Washington Nationals from 2016-17. But you also might remember him playing second base and batting .263 for the Grays in 2017. Since then, he played two years in the Cape Cod League (2018-19), was an All-PAC-12 player at Cal, and drafted in the 10th round by the Nationals in 2021. He’s had a successful start to his pro career, hitting .303 in 53 games between Low-A and High-A since making his debut last summer.
Christian Robinson – 2017
Playing alongside Baker in 2017, Christian Robinson (Stanford) roamed the outfield in for the Grays as a rising freshman. He slashed .298/.340/.511 with the Grays, which set him up for success in the Northwoods and Cape Cod leagues as well as the Atlanta Braves’ 15th round pick in 2021. He made his pro ball debut last summer in Low-A, playing in 35 games and began the 2022 season in High-A with the Braves’ organization.
Harrison Freed – 2017
Playing with Robinson in the outfield, Harrison Freed (Butler) was an everyday player with the Grays back in 2017, where he started 35 games and slashed .330/.360/.609 with seven homers and made the All-Ripken League team. Freed went on to play in the Northwoods League in 2018 before becoming a 13th round selection by the San Francisco Giants in 2019. He’s moved up the ranks each year from Low-A in 2019 to High-A in 2021 and now to Double-A Richmond in 2022. In 118 career Minor League games, Freed has hit a respectable .247 with 15 homers.
Lamar Briggs – 2015-2017
Lamar Briggs (Jackson State) may arguably have the best Grays’ career of any player that has come through DC since the club’s inception. He spent three years with the Grays, hitting over .300 with an on-base-percentage of .394 in 112 games - and batted an even .400 in 2017. With Jackson State, the outfielder .328 in his four-year career that spanned for nearly 200 games. His success allowed him to land a contract with the Westside Wooly Mammoths (United Shore League) in 2020 and 2021 before signing with the Lake Country DockHounds in 2022. In three seasons in independent ball, Briggs has hit .350 in over 70 games with 10 home runs and an OPS nearing 1.000.
JP Woodward – 2018
A 6-foot-6 left-hander, JP Woodward transitioned from the bullpen as a freshman at Lafayette to a starting pitcher with the Grays in 2018. In DC, Woodward pitched to a 2.41 ERA in seven starts and 41 innings. He returned to Lafayette the next fall as the Leopards Friday night starter and eventually moved on to the Cape Cod League in 2019. With the shortened MLB Draft in 2020, Woodward signed a Minor League contract with the Philadelphia Phillies and has since transitioned back to the bullpen. Now, he’s pitching for the Phillies High-A affiliate after recording a 2.08 ERA in 14 games in 2021.
JP Woodward, Now a Minor Leaguer with the Phillies, Found His Love With The Grays
Photo: (Lafayette Athletics).
By Will Locklin
It wasn’t an easy path into professional baseball for J.P. Woodward. The Jersey BlueClaws pitcher (Philadelphia Phillies High-A) filled in a relief role in high school. He never started a game at the Boys Latin School in Maryland, but the Baltimore, Maryland native had impressive gifts with his 6-foot-6 left-handed frame. However, he had little to show for it in high school.
“I was a really average baseball player almost my entire life,” Woodward said in a recent interview. “Growing up I was never on any crazy travel teams and never threw super hard. Even in high school I didn’t start a game all four years. I was probably worse than average.”
Woodward planned to stop playing baseball after his senior year of high school. He didn’t have the natural talent to throw a baseball at a high velocity. He lacked confidence, which got in the way of him attending showcase camps and tournaments where he could get on the radar of college coaches.
When he started college, Woodward focused on academics and attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania – a program the DC Grays boast a strong connection with. Although he didn’t initially attend college for baseball, Woodward still wanted to be connected to the game.
“They came and saw me that summer and told me I could be with the team in the fall as a walk-on,” Woodward said. “That’s really when my baseball career went full story mode.”
During his freshman season, Woodward was once again a relief pitcher. He made tremendous strides with his training and preparation for pitching. The structure of college allowed him to improve his game. Woodward jumped from throwing 80 miles-miles-per-hour to 86 miles-per-hour in a year.
“I fell in love with the process,” Woodward said. “I never had the idea that I was going to play pro ball or even be a starter for Lafayette. “But it was really fun seeing these goals get met. Once I kept sticking to it a lot of good things happened.”
One of those good things came in the summer after his freshman season in 2018 when he joined the DC Grays. Originally, Woodward was on tap to play in a local Maryland summer league. However, one of his coaches, Gregg Durrah, had a connection with current Grays General Manager Chris Spera, who invited JP Woodward to join the team for the summer.
However, even with an invite to the Ripken League, his summer didn’t get off to the best start. On Opening Day, Woodward was tasked with making his first start in years. He was given a lot of responsibility right off the bat – a responsibility that he wasn’t quite yet ready for.
Through five innings, Woodward yielded nine hits and five earned runs to the eventual 2018 Ripken League champions, the Bethesda Big Train. Going from relief to starter was a sudden change but one that over time he would get used to.
“After our pitching coach told me ‘who cares, you got good stuff so go out there and have fun,’ I remember thinking you know what he’s right,” Woodward said. “From that point on I went out there and had a blast and my coaches and teammates were a big part of that.”
Just six days later, Woodward made his second Grays start. Going up against the Baltimore Redbirds, he went through six innings of two-hit baseball with five strikeouts. The bounce-back start was the beginning of a hot stretch for Woodward.
From June 11 through July 8 Woodward had five starts and in each one of them, he went six innings at the minimum. The larger role had its adjustment period but Woodward thrived when he became comfortable with the workload.
“It was a reps thing and I finally got used to the fact that I was a good pitcher,” Woodward said. “Starting to throw more innings as a good pitcher facing good hitters with really fun teammates to play with. I got comfortable out there and that’s where my confidence came from.”
The environment within the Grays became infectious after the first few games of the season. DC began 2-5 to start the summer but then proceeded to go on a seven-game win streak. The rise in team culture and chemistry was a big reason for the surge.
“We had an awesome group of guys, that was one of the most fun times I’ve had playing baseball,” Woodward said. “We showed up every day and had a really good time. I looked forward to getting to the field every day. They made a fun environment to play baseball.”
A looser and more flexible environment helped ease the pressure of transitioning to a starter. College baseball, though, can have a strict schedule and more rules to follow.
“I would lift with my trainer back home and do my own throwing program,” Woodward said. “The coaches supported whatever we wanted to do as long as it was getting us better. There was a ton of freedom there and that made it a fun time.”
This newly given freedom allowed Woodward to get better each game. And that was precisely what he did. From his first start to his fifth of the summer, Woodward dropped his ERA with each journey on the mound. In his fifth start against the Baltimore Dodgers, Woodward peaked at a 1.90 ERA. He allowed a mere two hits and tied a season-high with eight strikeouts.
“Being a walk-on who didn’t know if he belonged to a good pitcher against guys who are at Division 1 or top of Division 2 or Division 3,” Woodward said. “That summer it was about my mentality more than anything.”
The Cal Ripken League regular-season finale for the Grays ended up becoming a classic summer baseball game. To clinch a playoff spot, the Grays had to beat the Redbirds. Not only did they win but they did so in walk-off fashion and won 7-6.
“Our guy hit a single right up the middle and it was a bang-bang play at the plate and [he] was safe,” Woodward said. “We walked off to make the playoffs and the whole team stormed the field.”
After the conclusion of Woodward’s season with the DC Grays, he returned to Lafayette a much-improved pitcher on the outside and inside. He impressed his college coaches so much in the fall that they gave him a spot on the starting pitcher staff for his sophomore season.
“That fall and winter I took major strides velocity wise so the summer with the Grays was huge because I grew my confidence and mindset,” Woodward said.
At the end of his junior season at Lafayette, Woodward transitioned to pro ball. With the shortened 2020 Major League Draft, he signed as a free agent by the Phillies and was promoted to their High-A affiliate last August. Since that point, Woodward has been grinding his way through minor league baseball.
“I’m back to being a reliever so the biggest grind is playing six days a week and keeping my arm in shape,” Woodward said. “But at the end of the day, the right mindset is to go out there and have fun.”
Even with the pressure and grind that is minor league baseball, Woodward falls back on his experience from his time with the Grays. Relaxing and having fun on the mound are two important factors for Woodward to be successful in baseball. They’re also two areas Woodward might not have applied without his Grays experience.
“It set a good foundation for the rest of my collegiate career and now into pro ball,” Woodward said. It was the perfect balance between competitiveness, fun, and a place to grow as a player and person. That’s all you can ask for.”
From a walk-on at Lafayette to now a minor league baseball player in the Phillies organization, JP Woodward has been through incredible growth as a baseball player.
He constantly worked at his craft to get where he is but he also developed a true love for the game. This love was sparked from his time with the DC Grays where he not only had fun while playing but also saw lots of personal success to fuel his rise.
By DC Grays Staff
After a subpar campaign in 2021, which saw the DC Grays drop to last place in the six-team Cal Ripken League Collegiate Baseball League, the Grays front office set about upgrading the talent level on the roster for 2022. A handful of players return for a second summer with the team, and DC also welcomes several highly-touted newcomers.
The core of the coaching staff returns, led by Manager Reggie Terry who has managed the Grays since 2015. Local baseball legend Jimmy Williams returns to the Grays for a ninth summer, after another spring coaching at Prince Georges Community College. The Grays’ exceptional pitching coach Andre Rabouin comes back for a second stint with the team after finishing the spring with Gallaudet University.
This roster is a mix of players from programs that have traditionally sent players to DC – such as BYU, Lafayette, Wofford, and Catholic – as well as players from some new schools we are excited to add – including St. John’s, Maine and George Mason. As always, there is a representative contingent of athletes from HBCU baseball programs, including Alabama A&M, Coppin State and Xavier (LA).
The 2022 Grays roster shapes up like this:
Many 2022 Grays enjoyed strong spring campaigns. For example, BYU shortstop Ozzie Pratt is one of BYU’s top hitters as a freshman, and catcher Mason Strong has also contributed significantly for the Cougars. CJ Mervilus has had an excellent spring for Alabama A&M, starting 30 games at shortstop. The group of Catholic pitchers have been a key component of that program’s outstanding 28-win season in the Landmark Conference. Third baseman Connor Goodman from Maine is hitting .300 in regular appearances for an excellent Black Bears team. Sam Blancato from Georgia Southern is hitting over .280 while getting significant playing time.
Grays General Manager Chris Spera said “This roster came together well, and I am excited about its talent, depth and versatility. We think we’ve put together a balanced team that can contend for a Ripken League championship.”
The DC Grays are a unique baseball program in many respects, and one of the many things that sets the Grays apart is its unwavering commitment to community service. When the Grays started as a Ripken League franchise in 2012, the team offered free baseball clinics to local youth leagues and local organizations. While the clinics proved popular and grew in number, the parent organization of the DC Grays wanted to make an even bigger impact. In 2016, DC Grays Baseball (the all-volunteer non-profit that runs the Grays) partnered with Major League Baseball to bring MLB's Reviving Baseball in Inner-cities (RBI) program back to the nation's capital. DC Grays RBI was launched that summer, and the program has been growing ever since.
By offering free baseball and softball programs to boys and girls from all over Washington, DC Grays RBI is bringing baseball to underserved areas of the community. The program accepts kids from across the region (no one gets turned away), but the majority of kids in DC Grays RBI are from Wards 6, 7 and 8 – the most economically-disadvantaged areas of the city.
DC Grays RBI is a comprehensive program that serves kids from Little League all the way through high school. The program is made up of the following:
Ward 7 Baseball – This is a summer "house" league for kids 10-12 years old of any skill level.
Junior Travel Baseball (8U/10U/12U) - This program is for more advanced players ages 10-12.
Junior Softball (10U/12U) - This is a developmental program for girls up to age 12 who are just learning the game.
Senior Travel Baseball (15U/18U) - These teams compete in regional tournaments against top
Senior Travel Softball (14U/16U/18U/23U) - These teams compete in regional and national
Currently, DC Grays RBI includes kids from several Washington, DC Little Leagues - including Mamie
Johnson Little League, Ward 8 Little League, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling (JBAB) Little League, Senators-Satchel Paige Little League and Banneker City Little League - as well as many middle school and high school baseball programs. The goal is to consistently reach out to additional Little Leagues and other youth baseball and softball programs to get more kids to participate in DC Grays RBI.
“We emphasize teamwork and dedication, and we want the kids to play the game the right way,” said Head Baseball Coach Brad Burris. “There are a lot of kids in DC who love baseball and softball. If you give them an opportunity, they will excel!”
A TRUE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE, AT NO COST: DC Grays RBI has made it a goal to give inner-city DC kids the same access to high-level baseball as kids in better-resourced communities. For example, our RBI baseball coaches Brad Burris (Howard University), Antonio Scott (Howard University), Keith Barnes (Virginia State), and Jabari Graham (Alcorn State) all played college baseball for HBCU baseball programs. Head Softball Coach Harry Thomas is also the Head Coach at Washington Adventist University. In order to marry that high-level coaching with outstanding competition, this year more DC Grays RBI teams will be participating in more local and regional tournaments than ever before.
Meanwhile, the Ward 7 Baseball program is planning to field five teams with a total of approximately 75 kids from Wards 7 and 8. They will be playing games at Fort Davis Rec Center and Benning Stoddart Rec Center. Jason Medina, an MPD officer and a graduate of the Harlem RBI program in New York, will once again be coordinating the Ward 7 Baseball program with his dedicated community volunteers.
“Playing with DC Grays RBI has been great for our kids” said Keith Barnes, president of Mamie Johnson Little League and a DC Grays RBI coach. “Being able to play in the summer, after our Little League season ends, lets our kids keep playing and learning the game. We are about baseball and softball opportunities for kids – and the kids and their families love it.”
JACKIE ROBINSON FIELDS: There are other exciting developments under way as well. DC Grays RBI is
working with the District government on renovations to Jackie Robinson Fields 1 and 2, to ensure
regular access to both the baseball and softball fields during the summer and fall. In order to make this a fitting home for DC Grays RBI, certain basic improvements to the fields are badly needed –
scoreboards, dugouts, infield improvements, pitcher’s mounds, bullpens, batting cages, stands. Last
summer, Ward 7 Councilman and baseball fan Vincent Gray secured funding to begin upgrading these
fields. DC Grays RBI is working with DC Department of Parks and Recreation on an agreement to allow us to maintain the fields during the summer and fall. Program partner Mamie Johnson Little League has begun to already to purchase field mowers, graders and infield dragging equipment that coaches will use to keep the field in top shape for the kids in the RBI program.
FALL BALL and WINTER TRAINING: DC Grays RBI also runs a fall baseball and softball program and a
winter indoor training season. Last year, DC Grays RBI baseball partnered with the St. James in
Springfield, which allowed DC Grays RBI players to practice in top-flight indoor facilities and work with a professional strength and conditioning program.