Growing up Joey Duffer heard all of the stories about his father Curtis being a part of the 1984 Halifax County High School baseball team and their run to winning the first state championship in school history. Curtis went on the play college baseball at Virginia Tech as well and Joey knew from a young age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and play college baseball.
“I respect my dad a lot and I have always been told I have some pretty big shoes to fill and I will live my life trying to fill those shoes because I want to be just like him,” Duffer said.
“I have always looked up to my dad. So many people tell me stories about him and the entire 1984 team and that team is still close today and every time they get together and I am around, they always talk about it and I always say that I wish I could go back in time just to watch them play baseball because my dad is my idol,” he added.
Duffer recently committed to continue his athletic and academic career at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia. The Mountain Lions are a member of the NCAA Division II and play in the Mountain East Conference.
Duffer has been playing travel baseball with the Dirtbags Baseball organization for a while now and his path to Concord took shape through that organization. It was through the Dirtbags that Duffer first heard about the baseball program at Concord.
"I ended up going on a tour there (Concord),” Duffer said. “The head coach, who is also the athletic director, walked around with pitching coach Drew Bailey and me and my dad and showed us the classrooms, living spaces, workout areas and just showed us what a daily routine would be if I went to Concord,” he added.
The coaches then had Duffer do some drills on the field for them including hitting off of a tee to get his exit velocity on his swing. After the drills the coaches sat down with Duffer and his father and discussed financials and how Concord would be the best fit for him. After the conversation concluded head coach Kevin Garrett gave Duffer an offer and said that he had about a month or so to decide what he wanted to do.
Duffer went home and with the help of his parents they sat down and went over everything to make sure that the right decision was made. A big asset that Concord had was that they had the major that Duffer was looking for, environmental science. The baseball program at Concord also has connections with the St. Louis Cardinals organization when it comes to the possibility of being drafted into the majors. Coach Bailey was one of those former Concord players that were drafted by the Cardinals.
“I felt like Concord could do the best for me and I called them up two or three weeks later and made the decision to continue my academic and athletic career at Concord,” Duffer said.
Losing his junior year of baseball at Halifax was something that Duffer never anticipated, especially in a year so important for recruiting, but the travel baseball connections were able to pay off and eliminate the stress of the recruiting process.
“It takes a huge weight off of your shoulders,” Duffer said about making the decision to commit to Concord. But the work doesn’t stop now that he has made that decision. “Sometimes when a person commits I feel like they lose their drive, but in my perspective when you commit your drive should increase drastically,” Duffer said. “Nothing is guaranteed on a collegiate level baseball team,” he added.
For Duffer, committing to play college baseball is just the beginning. He has been putting in more work than he has before because he wants to get to Concord and secure a starting spot on the team early so that he has more opportunities to get in front of Major League Baseball scouts.
Duffer’s work ethic and drive started on the fields at Cluster Springs when he was barely three years old. He was able to play with some good baseball players at a young age and see the talent that was around. Then when he got old enough to play travel baseball it really opened his eyes and showed him just how much work he had to put in to beat those talented players. Duffer talks about a quote that his father has always told him that “talent can only carry you so far, but the work you put in will take you wherever you want to go and the sky is the limit.”
“No matter how good you think you are there is always someone out there that is better than you and that is a very humbling thing,” Duffer said. “So I made it my priority that there might be someone out there that is better than me, but no one is going to work harder than me to try and reach my goals,” he added.
Duffer has always had a strong bat, and he has excelled as a catcher throughout his middle school and high school career, but he credits the late Harrison Conner with getting him started at the catcher position.
When he was younger and playing at Cluster Springs, Conner was the president of the organization and ran the fields at the ballpark. There were plenty of pitchers and fielders in the league, but there was a need for catchers. So Conner came to Duffer and asked him if he would catch for his team. Conner lent Duffer a set of catching gear and the rest is history.
Duffer credits his father as being an instrumental part of his progression as a baseball player, but he also credits his coaches and others that have helped him get to where he is today. Greg and Jeff Stephens, two brothers that were both drafted by MLB teams when they were younger have been helping Duffer for about a year with both hitting and catching.
“A big reason I am so knowledgeable about hitting and catching is because of them and I would say other than my dad, they have probably been the biggest help besides my travel coaches and high school coaches,” Duffer said. In the short time that Duffer has been going to them he says that his game has changed drastically for the better.
Being a part of the Halifax County High School baseball team has been on Duffer’s mind for as long as he can remember. With his father being an integral part of the program’s only state title, Duffer knew that was what he wanted to do his entire life. But the feeling that Duffer gets every time he steps onto the field at Halifax is one that he has a hard time putting into words.
“I wish I could put into words what it feels like to be a part of Halifax baseball. With the years that I have been blessed to play Halifax baseball with the middle school and now high school, it means so much and we are down here in a sports community, especially with everybody that talks about the ‘84 team and how great Halifax baseball is, it is surreal,” Duffer said. “It is very humbling and it is a feeling that I have never experienced before,” he added.
Each time he steps onto the diamond Duffer knows that he cannot let his teammates, coaches and organization down because of how good they have been to him. High school coaches Kenneth Day, Robert Carter, Shawn Torian and Jody Nelson, along with middle school coaches Zach Carter and LeVar Medley have all made big impacts on Duffer throughout his life not just on the field, but off the field.
“All of them (coaches) have shown so much love and respect to me and they have put in so much of their time to help me better myself as a baseball player and I cannot thank them enough,” Duffer said.
Duffer stays in contact with his coaches even during these times where they are unable to get together as a team and get ready for the upcoming season. Duffer also credits those coaches with the way he carries himself off of the field.
“A big part of my character off of the field comes from those guys. I have learned so much from my coaches, I have learned not just about baseball, but being respectful off the field and having great character because everybody loves to see a great baseball player, but something that carries you a long way is how you carry yourself off of the field,” Duffer said.
As Duffer’s final high school season approaches, even though it will look much different than years past, he wants to leave his mark on Halifax baseball and make a run towards a state championship just like his father. Duffer is also looking forward to spending one last season together with his teammates before they go their separate ways after this season. Two of Duffer’s teammates, Leo Noblin and Jaxon Lloyd, are both heading to college along with Duffer after this season and Duffer is rooting just as hard for their success as his own.
“I am hoping for the best for them and I am rooting for them because I really want to see them go out and do big things with their life. That just doesn’t go for them (Noblin and Lloyd) that goes for all the guys that I play with,” he said.
As Duffer’s final season as a Halifax baseball player inches closer, the work doesn’t stop. Duffer continues to work on his game each day and he remembers something that his parents always tell him.
“Do the right thing and God will reward you.”