To hear 8-year-old Wes Foster tell it, hitting a home run is a cinch. $1
"I tried to hit it hard, but I didn't," confessed the freckled Annandale Little Leaguer, describing his inside-the-park homer last weekend. "But it made a bunt. I ran to first. He missed it. I ran to second. He missed it. So I ran to third. He missed it. So I ran home."
And so it goes for rookie ballplayers all over Northern Virginia, as caravans of station wagons unload kids newly outfitted with Reggie Jackson mitts and Louisville Sluggers onto freshly raked ball diamonds.
Another Little League season in the sun, or as it was for the 25th annual opening of the Annandale Little League last Saturday, a shivery morning under rolling gray clouds.
And this was a special opening for the Annandale players.
For a while last year, it looked as if there would be no Little League in Annandale after a neighborhood resident barricaded the entrance to the league's three fields at the foot of Spring Valley Drive over a dispute about whether the entrance was public or private property.
But with the help of former Fairfax County attorney F. Lee Ruck, Virginia Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and a court injunction, the kid won access to the fields.
To celebrate that victory, league officials invited Ruck and GOP gubernatorial candidate Coleman to help open the season.
After the national anthem (played on electric guitars) and speech about sportsmanship, Coleman did the honors by throwing out the first ball.
"If you could bottle the energy that is here today you could run a small, four-cylinder for 18 months," Coleman said as he shook hands with 7-year-olds trying to collect catepillars in their baseball caps and preteen "major leaguers" blowing bubble gum through their braces.
Annandale has four new ball clubs this year, with 350 boys and about a dozen girls on 28 teams, according to Pat Mullins, league president.
The slight upswing, due in part to the addition of younger players, reflects a national trend, with national Little League officials getting ready to adjust the Little League census that's been hovering at 2.5 million players for several years.
In Northern Virginia, about 14,800 kids will play Little League this year, in 25 leagues. But some longtime coaches think Little League has lost some of the pizazz of earlier years.
"Little League used to be faster, with more competition," recalled Tom McGee, a bluff chemical engineer who's been coaching Little League for a decade. "Most of the kids are over-scheduled. They've got too much to do. When you do everything, you never get proficient in any one thing."
The competitive edge did seem a little dull at some games last Saturday. There were no scoreboards at last week's games, and at one point, as Wes Foster and him teammates on the United Virginia Bank Athletics were clobbering the Mattox Photography Dodgers, one fidgety Dodger begged his coach to check the score with the parent tallying runs on the sidelines. His coach, Marc Ross, busy with the intricacies of instructing base runners, brushed off the request. And when an adult bystander asked him how things stood, he said, "I think it's about 18 to 10. I'm really not sure."
But there still are classic Little League parents like Bill Cox, who says he "loves baseball" and whose family plays its own game every Monday night. Baseball seems to be a way of life for the Coxes. Bill Cox's wife Clarice coaches T-ball, a kind of pre-baseball for the younger set; three of the five Cox children already are in Little League, and all of them, including a 3-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, have their own baseball gloves.
Cox, in fact, is the only member of the family who expects to stay on the sidelines.
"I guess I'm a little too impulsive or emotional to coach a team," Cox said. "I scream and yell at the kids and that's not good. The important thing is to encourage them and to stress the positive."
Last Saturday, as he usually does, Cox analyzed every play and shouted pointers to his son on second base.
"C'mon now, Glenn. Stay alert, Glenn. Hustle, hustle, hustle," Cox yelled as 12-year-old Glenn snagged a fly ball.
Coach Tom McGee, firmly planted between the parents in the bleachers and his team in the cinder block dugout, revealed his rule for handling rambunctious parents: "Kids aren't allowed out of the dugout and parents aren't allowed in."
For the coaches, though, the biggest menace is not unruly parents or even another dynamo baseball team. It is soccer, which lately has seduced many potential recruits away from the baseball diamond.
"We're coming back steadily, though. Not in a surge, but Little League's coming back," predicted John Frey, Little League coordinator for Virginia. "Some of the kids have gotten a little tired of soccer. It's sort of repititious. Frankly, I'd rather watch paint dry all day."