Fans drawn to the quaintness of minor league ball -- but turned off by the promotional mayhem -- should view a game played in one of the two nearby college wooden-bat leagues. These games offer college-age stars a chance to put down their aluminum clubs and learn the bat control they'll need to make it to the majors. Fans get to enjoy a small-town baseball atmosphere, complete with hand-operated scoreboards, pregame clinics for kids and reasonable admission prices (about $3-$5).
The Clark C. Griffith Collegiate Baseball League, which was founded in 1945, is named after the early Washington Senators owner. Griffith, the father of Calvin Griffith, funded the league during its earliest years, when games were played on the Ellipse behind the White House. Today, there are five teams in the Griffith League, fielding talent from colleges across the nation. The games are played at sites such as Hap Shuler Field (George Mason University), Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge and the brand new Shirley Povich Field at Cabin John Park.
The Shenandoah Valley League offers fans a genuine rural baseball experience. The games are played in the old parks of Front Royal, Harrisonburg, Staunton, New Market, Waynesboro and Winchester. Players rake and line the fields, and umpires sometimes let kids help scuff the balls before games.
"The fields are older and smaller," says Margaret Engel, co-author of the travel book, "Ballpark Vacations," "and you might see 200 to 500 people a night. They have hand-operated scoreboards and old wooden fences. It's a wonderful small-town baseball feel."
CLARK GRIFFITH LEAGUE -- 703/273-2255. www.clarkgriffithbaseball.org.
Phone number and Web site list information regarding schedules and directions to games.
SHENANDOAH VALLEY LEAGUE -- 540/886-1748. E-mail inquiries for league president, Dave Biery: firstname.lastname@example.org.