Besides all those buds and blossoms, just as sure a sign of spring is softball, and thousands of women around here are proving that girls are a diamond's best friend.
Just ask Donni Chite of the Montgomery County Recreation Department, who's trying to schedule fields for more than 80 women's softball teams this year. Two years ago she had only 39.
The range of skills and seriousness in the area runs from regional - even national - title contenders to class C leagues not even bothering to get sanctioned by the Amateur Softball Association.
The latter are strictly out for fun and a bit of exercise, like the "Over 30 Gang" in Montgomery County, but all the others play more and more seriously. As Laurie Emerling of the "Foxy Ladies" in Fairfax says, "We go out to have fun, but it's no fun if we lose."
With competition due to start as soon as April 23, many teams are already practicing. And seeking sponsors, for like everything else, the costs of softball are skyrocketing. Franchise fees to recreation departments run $140 to $300 per team, to cover not only diamond time but umpires and scorekeepers. Then start adding equipment and uniforms - and, for the really serious teams, travel expenses.
And sponsors are hard to come by. The premier fast-pitch team in the area, the "Plain Americans," which was national runner-up in 1976 to the perennial champion Raybestos Brakettes of Connecticut, is sponsorless and has to turn down invitations to tournaments all over the nation. Seven of the "Plain Americans" were picked for last year's all-star game and several have received offers to play in the newly formed women's professional softball league.
Similarly, Rusty Niemiec, coach of the Montgomery County Mystics, last year's DC Metro Majors (AA) slow-pitch champs, has mixed emotions about his team's prospects for an even more successful season this year, considering the added experience and the fact that his athletes include four members of this year's national finalist Maryland University basketabll team.
"We're going all the way. I've been humble long enough - this year we have a good chance to make it to the nationals," he says.
But that would mean that the sponsorless Mystics would have to pay their own way to the regionals in Wilmington, Del. - where they were second, losing by one run, in 1975 - and then all the way to Jacksonville, Fla.
Even coaches of women's softball teams with sponsors have problems. Roger Chavez of Cavalier Volkswagen, last year's Arlington County champs, not only has to worry about who's on first, etc., but finding a designated sitter for children of several of his players. And his star shortstop is sidelined, expecting.
In the Prince George's fast-pitch league, the Glendale Angels have a different childparent problem. When Carolyn Marshall at third base fields a grounder and pegs the ball across the diamond to first, her team-mate better catch it.
"If I ever drop the throw," the first sacker laments, "she yells, 'Ma, what's wrong with you?'"
Despite the multiplicity of team members in one family, the Angels have a big following. A Sunday-afternoon game might draw a couple of hundred people, complete with baskets and other refreshment containers, and the atmosphere is picnic. The Angels, however, play for keeps, still miffed over last year's 11-10 loss in the playoffs.
"This year," vow Marshalls mere et fille, "we'll be ready."