High school baseball in Northern Virginia has progressed to the point where virtually evey team has at least one college prospect and several have a player with a shot at the majors, according to area coaches and scouts.
"Facilities for baseball in this area are better now than they've ever been and most high school coaches are more baseball-oriented than they used to be," explains Jim Moeller, 51, baseball coach at Fairfax High School for the past 21 years.
"Kids today play a 20-game schedule in high school and then 20 to 30 more on different teams during the summer. It used to be that 50 games was all you'd play in a four-year high school career," Moeller says.
The improving quality of Northern Virginia baseball has not gne unnoticed by college and pro scouts who now frequent area baseball fields regularly.
"We used to see scouts only when word was out that there was a prospect in this area," Moeller says. "We see them much more often now. Now they must cover this area."
Gil Darling, 79, has perhaps been the area's most active regular scout for the past 10 years. Darling is known as a "bird dog" - not affiiated with a specific major league team but with a scouting system used by 21 major league teams. He has seen over 50 area high school and college games so far this spring and he believes "the caliber of baseball in other areas of the country can't be much better than here, except in places where the climax lets them play year around.
"The coaches around here have really helped the game," Darling says. "Some of them line Jim Huelen at Jefferson, Jim Moeller at Fairfax, Mike Foglio at Mt. Vernon and Del Norwood at W-L (Washington-Lee) are excellent. Many others are quite good; they just haven't been at it as long."
Darling's job involves spotting boys with major league potential and then writing a report on them for the scouting service. He estimates he will recommend 15 boys from Northern Virginia high schools and area colleges this year.
"I look for speed and strong arms in almost everyone," Darling says. "A catcher or a first baseman can be a little slower if he can hit for power."
But Darling is especially interested in pitchers because "pitching and good defense are so much a part of the game - they'll be big hitters in the long run." Presently, he says, eight of the 15 recommendations he will write will be for pitching prospects.
"There are some good potential pitchers in this area this year," Darling said. "I don't look at their won-loss records. A high school pitcher may lose every game and still be a prospect. I look for the kids who are loose with a live arm. They must throw with a full arm motion and with good velocity. You can't teach the fast ball - they have to have that.
"Darling also looks carefully at a player's desire and attitude. "Major league baseball requires a lot of work and a kid has to be willing to do if if he wants to play," Darling says.
Darling feels there are several college level prospects in the area and he says he'll make recommendations to college coaches occasionally for "decent kids" if a coach asks him to.
A major goal of area high school coaches is to place players on college teams since so many major league teams have closed their farm systems due to financial problems in recent years.
"It's part of our job to help some kids with potential development," says Dean Sissler, coach at Marshall High School in Falls Church. "I have a pitcher, Mike Welsh, who could play for any college team. I'll put the bug in these college scouts' ears and then it's up to the player to perform." Sissler also has perhaps the most sought-after major league and collegiate prospect in the area this year in pitcher Mike Brown. Of Brown, who has the live, strong arm Darling admires, the bird dog says, "There are already so many scouts watching the kid, he seems to be having trouble concentrating on pitching."
A lot of baseball people, it seems, have their eyes on Northern Virginia ball.