"You better get it together," Coach Moe Vines angrily tells the Blue Devils, his team of 7, 8 and 9-year-old boys in shoulder pads and helmets, "because you know how to play the game!"
On this glorious Saturday morning, in a well-kept field behind the Greenleaf Gardens in Southwest Washington, stand moms and aunts and grannies in sunglasses, clutching binoculars. It's halftime, and the Blue Devils are down, 0-7. Lots of tension, and it isn't surprising. Little boys like 7-year-old Makhi Whittaker have grown up in a city where clocks and remote controls are set to football and basketball. Go Redskins! Go Wizards!
"Is that baseball?" asks Makhi, No. 5, standing in the sidelines. "I don't like baseball."
It may be that he doesn't like the sport because he doesn't know it -- "not much at all," says LaDonya, 26, his mother. He loves basketball first, football second. His great-aunt Wendy says, "Baseball is one of the great American sports that the boys here don't have much exposure to." There's Little League, yes, but it's not as popular as football or basketball, both women say, "at least not yet."
" 'There's baseball, hamburger and hot dogs,'" says Wendy, 40. "We have hamburgers and hot dogs." They are, in fact, cooking on a grill nearby -- "but no baseball."
Talking to kids in this area about baseball is a bit like talking to them about a beloved, but long-dead grandfather whom only a few family members have met. Kids roll their eyes, scrunch their faces and pause when asked about a sport that isn't much a part of their reality -- at least not here, a few blocks from where a new $440 million stadium could be built, if the Expos move to D.C.
"Isn't that in Baltimore?" asks Marco Brown, 14, of the sport he has never played.
Though baseball has been away from the District for more than 30 years, its history in the nation's capital is storied. In 1924, the Senators, D.C.'s first team in the modern major leagues, won its first and only World Series. Then it left, moving to Minnesota after the 1960 season. Baseball gave the District an expansion team that same year but it, too, left, heading off to Texas after the 1971 season. Over the years, talk ensued about bringing a team back. Deals came and went. Still, no team.
"Baseball is like Greek to the kids," says Toni Reid, 34, who came to watch her nephew, DeAndra play football on the field at Delaware Avenue and M Street SW. "They know nothing about it."
Chawn Baker, watching his nephew, Saul, adds, "The folks who want the Expos to come here are the fans who live outside the city." The 32-year-old college and pro football fan continues, "Go ask around. Find a kid who's a die-hard baseball fan around here."
On the other side of South Capitol Street, in the Southeast quadrant, teenagers walk past construction sites where new apartment buildings and hotels rise not far from abandoned properties and vacant lots.
"It's stupid," says Dennis Drumgol, 14, of the Expos arrival. "It's a joke," says Arthur Thompkins, also 14, standing next to him. Talk about the Redskins or the Cowboys, or the Lakers or the 76ers, or Tim Hasselbeck or Allen Iverson to the 14-year-olds and the conversation takes off. Talk about baseball -- Sammy Sosa? Barry Bonds? -- and the conversation never gets off the ground.
The old man smoking a Marlboro listens. He shrugs.
"It's kind of embarrassing if you think about it," says Arthur Robinson, who, for 49 years has driven books and supplies for the D.C. Public Library. He sits on the front porch of a friend's house on Third Street SE, between K and L streets, and points out where the baseball stadium, if it's built, will be.
Unlike the youngsters, his eyes shine at the prospect of baseball returning to the city. He sits up, takes off his Redskins cap and asks, "How come it's taking them so long to bring baseball back?"
He is a "a fanatic, really," he says. Born in 1925 -- in the era of Walter "Big Train" Johnson -- Robinson remembers sitting in the segregated bleachers of Griffith Stadium, which once sat near Howard University.
"I damn near lived in that stadium," Robinson says. "That was my place."
He rooted for the Senators, when it was an all-white team. He rooted for the Homestead Grays, the all-black team. He loved the game whoever played it.
"There's a problem here -- a generation gap, they call it -- and it's gotta be fixed," Robinson says, blowing smoke.
He, for one, will root for the Expos, if they come.