Just 18 years old and three days out of high school, three Northern Virginia youths stood in National Airport with their baseball equipment, packed and ready for a three-week trip to Scandinavia.
Baseball, the game they have been playing since they were eight, was providing them with yet another thrill.
The teen-agers -- Joe DiCesare of Edison High School, Jim Thrift of Oakton High School and Tom Reed of Robinson High School -- were chosen to tour Scandinavia with an all-star team of players drawn mainly from New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
"I'm really excited," said Reed, a lanky pitcher who, like his two companions, wore a baseball cap emblazoned with USA. "I'm not nervous, just looking forward to it."
During tryouts involving some of the best players in Northern Virginia, Reed, DiCesare and Thrift were selected by Robinson High baseball coach Bob Menefee for the trip to Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Menefee will be an assistant coach for the team, which will conduct instructional clinics as well as compete against Scandinavian teams.
"It's a teaching trip and an educational trip for our players as well as theirs," Menefee said.
The coach said that baseball has become increasingly popular in Scandinavia since the sport was introduced by American GIs during World War II, and that Scandinavian teams have improved accordingly.
The U.S. players have athletic objectives, but also are interested in the personal experiences the trip offers.
"I don't know what to expect there baseball-wise," said DiCesare, who batted .363 in his senior year at Edison. "I want to concentrate on my hitting but I want to see everything while I'm there, too."
For Reed, a curve-ball and fast-ball pitcher who won eight games and lost only one for Robinson last season, the trip is a chance to work on his slower pitches, particularly a change-up. But he has additional expectations. s"I went to Newfoundland last summer and it was one constant party with a little baseball thrown in once in a while," he said. "Seriously, we played against older competition and it was a good experience."
Menefee, one of the area's more successful coaches in his 10 years at Robinson, went to Ecuador for two weeks of baseball last summer, an experience in the cultural value of such trips. "It's great for the kids to see how other people live," Menefee said. "They live with families in the countries we visit. It's an experience they might not ever have again."
Ten years of baseball have paid off handsomely for the three players. Reed and Thrift, a .466 hitter at Oakton will be attending the University of North Carolina on baseball scholarships this fall. DiCesare is deciding between Georgia Southern and James Madison University.
"I figure it (baseball) occupies about 40 percent of my time," said Thrift, whose father Syd is accompanying the team to Scandinavia to direct the baseball clinics. "I started concentrating on baseball and gave up other sports a couple of years ago when I figured baseball was my best chance to get a college scholarship."
The boys and their families are providing much of the money for the trip. Local civic groups are defraying some expenses and several sporting goods firms have donated uniforms and equipment.