Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local Sports

February 21, 2009

All-Star Wagner is still a Dog at heart

TAZEWELL, Va. — Don’t think of Billy Wagner as a hometown hero.

He is, but the 14-year major league veteran has been admired all over Virginia, and Texas, and Pennsylvania, and New York, too. To him, however, the most important fans are probably located in a couple of places — Tazewell and Crozet, Virginia.

After an All-State career at Tazewell, an All-American stint at Ferrum a series of All-Star appearances, and nearly 400 major league saves, Wagner remains comfortable with what is most important.

“At home, I’m just Dad,” he grins, “and no matter where I play, I’m still a Bulldog at heart.”

More than 200 of his friends, former coaches, classmates, fans, and current Tazewell High School baseball players listened to the New York Mets’ closer at the First Pitch ceremony hosted by the THS Baseball Boosters Saturday.

The former first round (1993) choice of the Houston Astros, steadily continuing a recovery from Tommy John surgery five months ago, is looking forward to what he hopes will be mid-summer return to the big leagues.

He was all about the Dogs Saturday, however.

“I learned a whole lot about throwing a baseball from playing catch with Jessee Davis, the quarterback on the ’86 state champion football team,” said Wagner. “That’s the learning curve I started with. We looked at each other to step up. It was ‘we, not me’ for us.

“We didn’t know about our stats — just whether we won or not. That’s what team is all about.”

Wagner told the crowd that the toughest hitter for him is the one he takes lightly because that is the batter that will usually get the big hit.

He recounted his excitement about closing out a no-hitter in Yankee Stadium, and the incredible amount of statistics compiled for opposing teams.

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