• 43°

Spartans, Suffolk native to play vs. Tides

When Norfolk State’s baseball team gets to play the Norfolk Tides in an exhibition game at Harbor Park Tuesday night, it’ll be just one more reason why Suffolk native John Rasberry’s happy he’s worked and played his way to Norfolk State and the Spartan baseball squad.

Rasberry was a standout outfielder and pitcher at Lakeland until transferring to Greenbrier Christian in Chesapeake as a junior.

With the Gators, Rasberry was a two-time all-Tidewater Conference and All-State (Virginia Independent Schools) player and on a state-championship Greenbrier club while hitting .475 in his senior season.

Rasberry went to college and played ball for two years at Delaware Tech Community College before being recruited and coming to Norfolk State.

Getting the chance to play Division I baseball was certainly one goal. Coming back close to home is a huge bonus.

“I’ve been away the past couple years. It’s great now playing in front of faces I know basically every home game. People who, for my whole life, have been cheering me on, are able to watch me play. It’s really fun,” Rasberry said.

As the starting leftfielder and leadoff hitter for the Spartans, Rasberry’s hitting .371 (26-for-70) with 18 runs, three doubles, two homers, six stolen bases and 12 RBI.

“I feel I have more power at the plate and it’s a long season, so I feel I’ll be strong for the whole season. I worked extra hard in the weight room all offseason,” Rasberry said. “Ever since I was little, my dad would be out with me as I was playing, he said, ‘you’ve got to work harder than everyone else.’”

Tuesday’s game against the Tides, the triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, is Norfolk’s last tune-up before setting off on its 144-game season. It’s a great stage for Norfolk State to show its talent.

At the same time, it’s still an exhibition game. The Spartans have important business in the meantime with a three-game series against MEAC rival Coppin State this weekend at NSU. The Spartans (7-9-1) were swept at North Carolina A&T to state the conference season last weekend.

“We have to get back to how we were playing earlier. We need to be a little more focused. We had a rough weekend, but we can turn it around for the rest of our conference games,” Rasberry said.

Fitting in with new teammates has been no problem at all says Rasberry. There’s an easy natural bond among many of the Spartans under head coach Claudell Clark. Rasberry is one of 19 players to come from Eastern Region or Hampton Roads schools. He’s one of four Greenbrier Christian alums on the roster.

“It’s been easy really. Everyone really gets along well. It’s a great group of guys,” Rasberry said. “The coaches do a really good job recruiting guys with character, guys who fit well together and guys who want to improve and win.”

Moving into Division I baseball provides all sorts of challenges. Doing well in the classroom is certainly at the top of the list.

With a schedule of more than 50 games, “you’ve got to stay ahead of your schedule and be on the good side of all your teachers,” Rasberry said. “Your social life has to be on hold because it’s baseball season.”

Tuesday’s game at Harbor Park is slated for 7:15 p.m. Tickets, for $5, are available at the Harbor Park box office and Norfolk State’s baseball office.

“It’ll be a first. I’ve played in some minor league parks before, but never against minor-league players,” Rasberry said.

As for the decision for the Tides and NSU, it’s also a first.

“Hopefully this is the state of a long-term relationship with an institution that is very important in the Hampton Roads community,” said Ken Young, president of the Norfolk Tides.

“This game will give our baseball program greater exposure in the Tidewater area as well as serving as a key fundraiser for us,” Clark said.