So says Doug Bates, the top vote-getter in an informal, weeklong social media poll asking fans to select the top all-time high school baseball players from far Southwest Virginia.
A star pitcher who graduated from J.J. Kelly in 1983, Bates amassed a career record of 40-1 with the Indians. In every single win, the VHSL Hall of Famer pitched a complete game.
“I never lost to a Virginia team,” Bates noted. “My only loss came in a 2-1 loss to Science Hill. That was in 1982.”
Bates won three straight state championships with the Indians.
“That team with Scott Church, J.W. Smith and all of us, you may never see a team like that again in 50 years,” Bates said. “And Coach (Mack) Shupe just instilled winning in us.”
Bates said Southwest Virginia has been known for its high level of baseball.
“When I look back on greats, I think of Tracy Stallard, Jimmy Gobble, Charlie Beverly, Jigger Bradley, Mark Howell, J.W. Smith, Scott Slemp, Scott Church, Danis Smith, Lee Moulse and others, just to name a few,” he said.
Bates threw six no-hitters and 15 shutouts, struck out 515 batters and closed his high school career with a 0.50 ERA.
The Braves drafted him in 1983, and he played in the Atlanta and St. Louis Cardinals farm systems for four years.
Bates has spent several years in coaching, including the past 20 as an assistant at Virginia-Wise. He coached at Wise County Christian School and in 1998 was an assistant at J.J. Kelly when he collected his fourth state championship ring. That year the Indians claimed the eighth of their nine state baseball titles.
THE TOP 11
Bates is at the head of an impressive list of former Southwest Virginia stars. The other top vote-getters were:
JIMMY GOBBLE, John Battle: Gobble finished his high school career with a 32-8 mark and 512 strikeouts. His senior season, Gobble had a 10-1 record with 151 strikeouts and a 0.49 ERA. He also compiled a .493 batting average with nine home runs and 30 RBIs. Gobble was drafted by Kansas City in 1999 and entered the major leagues in 2003 with the Royals. During his seven-year MLB career, he had a 22-23 record, a 5.29 ERA and four saves in 435 2/3 innings of work.
BILLY WAGNER, Tazewell: Wagner went 7-1 with a 1.52 ERA and 116 strikeouts, batted .451 and drove in 29 runs his senior year with the Bulldogs. After a strong college career at Ferrum, Wagner was drafted by Houston in 1993. As a relief pitcher, he enjoyed a 16-year major league career that ended in 2010, finishing with a 47-40 record, 422 saves and a 2.31 ERA.
CHARLIE BEVERLY, J.J. Kelly: A VHSL Hall of Fame member, Beverly tossed five no-hitters, including a perfect game, and totaled nine shutouts during his career at J.J. Kelly. During his senior year in 1977, Beverly recorded 156 strikeouts and had a season ERA of 0.29.
CHAD LONGWORTH, J.J. Kelly: Longworth was twice an all-state selection, including the state player of the year in 2002. He played three years in the Cleveland farm system after being drafted by the Indians in 2002. He had a .253 batting average with seven home runs and 68 RBIs in minor league play.
J.W. SALYERS, Pound: Salyers was an all-state pitcher before playing baseball at Walters State. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1996 and played in their farm system until 2001. During that time, he went 22-26 with five saves and a 4.23 ERA over 425 innings.
JUSTIN GRIMM, Virginia High: The former Bearcats star played a couple of years at Georgia before being drafted by Texas in 2010. In seven major league seasons with the Rangers, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City and Seattle, Grimm has gone 20-23 with four saves over 356 innings.
MITCH HOUSE, Castlewood: House was a solid star as both a catcher and infielder. Drafted by Pittsburgh in 1990, he played in the Pirates organization from 1990 to ’95. He played three years (1996-98) for the Chillicothe Paints in the independent Frontier League. In nine seasons of professional ball, House played in 609 games and had a .269 batting average. He totaled 86 home runs, 363 RBIs and 47 stolen bases.
CHRIS CLAY, Wise County Christian School: Clay hit .534 his senior season with the Eagles. He recorded 20 RBIs and 23 stolen bases that year while also compiling a 2.24 ERA with 108 strikeouts in 53 innings pitched. He signed with NCAA Division I Coastal Carolina.
BRAD ROBBINS, Powell Valley: Robbins was all-state in both baseball and football. Before entering the college football coaching ranks, Robbins was one of the top players to ever play baseball at Virginia-Wise. He owns school records in nine categories and is second in three.
TRACY STALLARD, Coeburn: Stallard, who died in 2017, threw two no-hitters for Coeburn in 1956. He played in the big leagues from 1960 to 1966. During his career with the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals, Stallard went 30-57 with a 4.17 ERA. Stallard also is in the history book for giving up what was then a major league single-season record 61st home run to Roger Maris in 1961.
Others receiving significant numbers of votes were Todd Zirkle, Powell Valley; Heath Miller, Honaker; Kevin Barker, Virginia High; Calvin Talford, Castlewood; Sheldon Adams, Powell Valley; J.W. Smith, J.J. Kelly; Denny Wagner, Castlewood; Nate Clark, Gate City; and Austin Smallwood, Eastside.