Beyond RFK, a Team Left Out
Sunday, June 26, 2005
The mayor of Washington kicked his left leg in the air, swung his right arm down from behind his ear and released a baseball that wobbled into the catcher's mitt of a 15-year-old player for Eastern Senior High School.
Television cameras captured the picture-perfect scene: a cool, sunny day in late March at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, wearing a red-and-blue Washington Nationals sweat suit, played catch with sophomore Calvin Young, wearing a royal blue Eastern Ramblers jersey.
The photo op was intended to show that the return of professional baseball to the District, for which Williams (D) fought, would bring the Nationals and the city together on a granular level.
"Baseball will be great for the city," said Williams, surrounded by Calvin and his teammates. He promised new jobs, economic development and playing opportunities for the city's youths -- benefits to help justify the $18.5 million the city spent renovating RFK and the more than $500 million proposed for a new stadium.
In a flush of enthusiasm, Williams vowed to attend Eastern's first game.
When the Nationals made their home debut in April before more than 45,000 enthusiastic fans, the mayor received a long ovation. But when the Ramblers opened their season against Spingarn Senior High, Williams was absent, and he did not attend any of the games.
The Ramblers play about a block from RFK on a field where dandelions poked through shin-high grass and Slurpee cups littered the outfield. For his team, Coach Tillman Frizzell had eight bats, two dozen balls with frayed red stitching and one set of faded uniforms with mismatched warm-up jackets. His team had attracted only 11 players.
During their season, the Ramblers' challenges would reflect the neglect and decline of public schools in a city gripped by an economic boom and divided by tensions between rich and poor, black and white. In many ways, the team symbolizes the concerns of residents who opposed spending public money to woo a professional baseball team. They had argued that the city needed to address enormous needs in schools, in the lives of inner-city children.
Never Count Them Out
On a warm day in early May, Frizzell, a 69-year-old retired teacher, parked his car behind the school in Northeast and waited for his players to emerge.
The second baseman, center fielder and right fielder are football players who came out for baseball after hearing about practice on the morning announcements.
The left fielder had so few hits last season that he began watching professional games on television for pointers. Frizzell, who has coached at Eastern for 17 years, was so desperate to fill his roster that he accepted a reserve player he had kicked off the team last year for wearing fatigues during a game.
"This is the worst group I've had at Eastern," Frizzell said. "Only two know anything about the game."