The Annandale Little League won a big one yesterday in a contest involving a business executive, the Virginia attorney general's office, a large Richmond law firm and the Fairfax Circuit Court.
As a result, the league's 400 members, aged 6 to 12, will be able to use three baseball diamonds on the grounds of the Atlantic Research Corp. on Cherokee Avenue in Fairfax County during this year's four-month season.
Next year . . . well, that'll be another inning and the outcome remains in doubt.
The league has been allowed to use the fields for the past 15 years, but access is a problem.It's limited to a 200-foot-long stub of land behind the research complex.
Lloyd M. Gerber, president of the Robinson Terminal Warehouse Corp., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co., lives in the area and contends that his property extends across the access.
Gerber is described by his attorney, Charles Midkiff of the Richmond law firm of Christian, Barton and Epps, as "a public spirited person who has had a substantial problem with the disruption of his property and privacy."
Midkiff said the Little League agreed to erect an 8-foot-tall stockade fence across the access in return for permission to use the access last year. This year was another matter. The fence is up and, according to Midkiff, the league agreed not to use the access this season.
Pat Mullins, the adult who is president of the league, said he wasn't aware of any agreement to stay away from the access strip and so called Gerber on Monday to ask when the fence would be taken down. He said Gerber refused.
Mullins said he then called F. Lee Ruck, a longtime friend who used to be the Fairfax County Attorney, and was told that either the state or the county might own the land in question.
On Thursday, the Virginia Attorney General's Office filed suit in Fairfax Circuit Court alleging that a private barrier -- the fence -- had been erected on state property.
The case came yesterday before Judge Thomas Middleton. Assistant Fairfax County Attorney Richard Golden stood by in case the judge should rule that the county -- rather that Gerber or the state -- owns the land. But the judge continued the case.
Deputy State Attorney General Walter McFarlane said that, nonetheless, "the immediate crisis has been eased." Gerber, he said, "has agreed to let the kids use a 30-foot right-of-way to get to the field this season. They can play ball."
Gerber was urged to decline comment by Midkiff, who said important property rights are involved in the case.
Trespassers, Gerber's attorney said, have been a problem and in the past ignored a chain link fence that guarded the right of way.
"They have been coming back year after year, and year after year Mr. Gerber has acquiesced through willingness and continued good efforts and let them through," Midkiff said.
"Now," he observed, "an overwhelming number of government bodies are involved."
The suit is still pending and the question of ownership hasn't been settled.
The county must place a "No Parking" sign near the fence this season, and Gerber has the right to rebuild the fence completely "if the ownership issued is not resolved by Aug. 1," Middleton said. The little league season ends in mid-July.
"Shucks, I don't know what the big deal is," said Chris Maslyn, a 12-year-old third-baseman of the Little League Padres. "For sure it feels good that we'll be using the fields again."
Richard Maslyn, Chris's father, said, "I find it amazing that the (legal) wheels can be gotten to move as quickly as they did. The better part of the season was in jeopardy."