Vienna River Dogs are set to start play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League

Vienna, a former mainstay in the Clark Griffith League, has a new wood-bat college summer league team to call its own. The River Dogs visit the Alexandria Aces on Friday night for their first regular season game in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League. Their home opener at Madison High School is the next night against the Baltimore Redbirds.

Last year Vienna was left without a team when the 65-year-old Clark Griffith League disbanded. Still, longtime area baseball figure Bruce Hall put together a River Dogs team — he said he prefers two words for the nickname — that “basically ended up being a barnstorming team. . . . We played industrial teams, semipro teams, even a couple of Ripken League teams in exhibition games.”

By the end of the summer, the Ripken League’s board of directors unanimously approved the River Dogs’ entry for 2011. They’ll play their home games at Madison, where Hall is an assistant coach for the Warhawks. The Clark Griffith League’s Senators played at Waters Field.

“What I’m really excited about is the presence of Bruce Hall [who’s the owner, head coach and general manager of the River Dogs],” league commissioner Robert Douglas said in a phone interview last week. “We did our due diligence. To come into the league, it’s a $10,000 fee and we really look at the financials of the principals. We look at the quality of the team, the quality of management.

“We are very careful who we bring into the league because we’re partially funded by Major League Baseball and because we have to protect Cal Ripken’s image.”

The league, formerly known as the Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League, has been a proving ground for college and rising college players since 2005. This year, the league comprises nine teams, with six in Maryland and three in Virginia. The returnees are aforementioned Alexandria and Baltimore along with the Bethesda Big Train, Herndon Braves, Rockville Express, Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts, Southern Maryland Nationals and Youse’s Orioles.

Vienna, whose roster is stocked with local players, is the only new franchise.

“Last year we kind of showcased this team as a local group,” Hall said. “We do have players from other states, but I’m trying to keep the best kids here who need a good place to play ball in a competitive league.”

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