John Horshok is 32 years old, a bachelor and a homeowner in the Lake Barcroft area. He is part-owner of Joe Theismann's restaurant and works for a major soft drink company that sends him all over the world. Still, this summer, he made time -- and plenty of it -- for his No. 1 priority: slow-pitch softball.
Horshok is player-manager for one of the hottest softball teams around. Horshok and his 18 teammates managed to win 102 out of 125 games this summer. That record was good enough to make history. For the first time in nearly 20 years, Northern Virginia sent a team to the national tournament of the Amateur Softball Association. The team, of course, was Horshok's.
In the tournament, played Labor Day weekend in Jacksonville, Fla., the team lost in the second round to a Salt Lake City team. The score was 15-14.
The team, part of the Fairfax County League, is sponsored by Joe Theismann's restaurant. Horshok likes to describe himself and his teammates as "19 free spirits, (who make) terrific sacrifices to play this much softball."
One player actually moved from Maryland to Virginia so he could be closer to game and practice sites.
Another player interrupted a business trip in Dallas to fly back to Washington for a practice -- and then flew back to Dallas.
Still another player used all his personal leave from work to play in the Jacksonville tournament.
Few players begrudge such sacrifices. Says Dennis Crawford, who grew up in Falls Church and now lives in Silver Spring: "For the 1 1/2 hours it takes to play a game, I can forget work and everything else in life. Win, lose or draw, I walk off the field smiling."
For Crawford, who batted .551 and hit 48 home runs during the regular season, softball is a family affair. "My wife and two kids love it," he says. "They came out to the games (and) we all had a good time.
"I own a hardware store and in the past I was always afraid to leave it. But this year, I found peope who could run it for me so I was able to play more."
The success of the team has been no accident. Over the past five years, Horshok has carefully built up the team, using all the skills of a major league club intent on capturing the World Series crown.
Last year, the Theismannm team was ranked No. 1 in Virginia in a post-season poll, only to be upset before making it to the regionals.
"Before this season, we decided to really try and accelerate," Horshok says. "We took the best player from one club that was competing with us. Then we got another group of good players from other teams at the beginning of the year.
"People said we had too many guys that had been stars on other teams; that we wouldn't be able to keep them all happy."
But Horshok has a formula. "These guys respond to organization," he said. "And, of course, winning supersedes everything else."
The Theismann team averaged 17 runs per game in the regular season, hit a combined total of 483 home runs and had a team batting average of .544. There were 15 players with batting averages of over .500, and two who batted over .600.
Rich Thomas, 29, a former football player at Eastern Kentucky University, hit 83 homers and drove in 285 runs. A veteran softball player, Thomas tried to keep the game in perspective.
It's a frustrated athlete's game," he says candidly. "But you can't really stay away from it. It's like being with your first love -- you always want to go back."
"It's almost like an addiction," says Tom Tudor, 34, a teacher who says he has averaged 150 games a summer for various teams over the past 10 years. "It gets in your blood. I live for it in the summers."
Ron Slingerman, 30, who once pitched minor league ball in the Chicago White Sox organizations, says, "I enjoy the competition, but it's 100 percent different than when I was playing baseball professionally. I do this for friendships. There are no pressures."
Horshok says the team spent $10,000 during the regular season on league fees, uniforms and transportation. The Jacksonville tournament cost another $9,000. Theismann's restaurant picked up most of that $19,000, and a raffle of tickets to next Monday's Redskins vs. Dallas game helped defray some of the expenses.
"We didn't spend that much considering how far we advanced," Horshok says. "Some of the teams in the nationals spent upwards of $35,000.
Apparently Horshok has convinced one very important person that the money was well-spent: Joe Thiesmann.
"It's incredible how much time the players put in during the softball season," says Theismann, who doesn't play on the team. "They've made me the Gene Autry (owner of the California Angels) of the softball world.
"Having a ball club in a championship is more than Gene has had."