In the rich tapestry of D.C. sports, two complement each other on the calendar better than others: college basketball and professional baseball. Opening Day is usually in late March or early April, as the men’s and women’s Final Fours are being held, and the World Series wraps up in late October or early November, just as schools are getting ready to play their season openers.
David S. Driver is one of many media members who jump from one to another (while sometimes getting stuck with a foot in both at once), and he’s the author of a potential stocking-stuffer on each: “Hoop Dreams in Europe: American Basketball Players Building Careers Overseas,” and “From Tidewater To The Shenandoah: Snapshots from Virginia’s Rich Baseball Legacy” (cowritten with Lacy Lusk).
Both books came out this year, but each has been inspired by David’s long tenure covering both sports, as well as his firsthand experiences playing baseball in the Rockingham County Summer League.
“People may not realize that after the major leagues, it is the oldest baseball league in the country,” Driver said of the league, which started in 1924. “These days, mostly, it’s Division III players that play in the league … When I played back in the ’80s, I got to play against minor league players; even major league players have played in the league over the years.”
“From Tidewater To The Shenandoah” looks at grassroots minor league baseball in Norfolk and Virginia to Lynchburg and Fredericksburg. Driver also takes a look at the amateur leagues and college baseball, while also recounting stories about Virginia residents who have made the show.
“There’s probably 408 Virginia natives who have made the majors,” he said, “and I think we have stories on maybe 50 of them.” The recently retired National Ryan Zimmerman and reigning AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander are just two of those profiled.
Driver took highways and back roads all throughout the Commonwealth while researching, from Richmond and the Capital Region to the Tidewater and Southside areas, from Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge to Northern Virginia.
Driver’s favorite ballpark?
“Go to see the New Market Rebels right off of I-81, in New Market. Quaint little park: Your seats are 20 feet away from the catcher,” Driver said. Beautiful view of the mountains off to the east; Skyline Drive is right up there.”
While David stayed in his native Virginia for his baseball book, “Hoop Dreams in Europe” took him across the Atlantic to a world that might not be the NBA, but remains profitable for many who go.
“I don’t think the average American fan realizes that you can go to France or Italy and make $100,000, even as a mid-major Division I player out of college,” Driver said. “I hope that people realize that going to Europe as a North American — it’s keeping their dream alive, and they’re making a living.”
The process began when Driver’s wife became a professor at the University of Szeged, in Hungary. In multiple trips overseas over the last 18 years, he had opportunities to write about former college players from the D.C. metro area and elsewhere making a living in European leagues. Some of those players include former George Washington guard Chris Monroe and ex-Maryland guard Nick Faust.
“Some of those, I got to cover in college and then got to see them overseas,” Driver said. “I mean if you’re an American writer and you track down somebody in Hungary, the first thing they’re saying is ‘What are you doing here?’ But that makes a nice segue into finding out a little about their career post-college.”
Faust is one of many former Terps in the book. Others are playing in Finland, Montenegro, China, Turkey, Greece, Iceland, Spain and Taiwan, Driver said: “That’s just some of the men.”
Georgetown gets their due as well. “Jason Clark has actually had a nice career … I got to see him in Belgium a couple of years ago and interview him there.”
The book focuses on more than just the DMV: Other chapters cover players from schools including Buffalo and Santa Clara. And you can also read about the double-duty performed by WNBAers like ex-Maryland and current Mystics player Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
“That’s one thing I feel really good about the book,” Driver said; “I have not been able to find another book that tells the story of American women playing overseas. And now [in the aftermath of Britney Griner’s release] it’s in the news every day.”