When members of the Lorton Warriors ball team showed up for practice at the prison baseball diamond Sunday afternoon, the outfield walls were concealed in a thick fog, so security guards cancelled the game. There would be no "home runs" this day.
It was not only Mother Nature vs. the Warriors; their hometown wasn't so enthusiastic about them either. When the team met to reschedule the practice game, coach Don Hicks informed his players that Lorton had been voted out of the citywide Continental Baseball League.
"Kicked out?" exclaimed Gregory Minor, the team's 31-year-old third baseman, who is due to be released in November. "That kinda messes me up because I'm trying to deal with an attitude problem and I want to prove that I'm coachable."
"This is a terrible blow," said Clarence Johnson, 33, an outfielder who holds the double honor of being the team's "Most Valuable Player" and "Comeback Player of the Year."
"See, I had been released, but I came back on a brand new charge," he explained. "I had stopped thinking about baseball, competition and winning."
Continental League Commissioner Dave King and representatives from its 12 college varsity-caliber teams are expected to meet today and begin setting game schedules for the upcoming season. As it stands now, Lorton is out of the league. But the reason is not so clear.
Last season, the Lorton Warriors appeared headed for their first playoff spot in seven years of Continental League competition. During a decisive game with their arch-rivals, the D.C. Dodgers, there was an escape attempt by two inmates from another part of the prison.
The Warriors were ordered back to their dormitories along with other inmates for the standard prison head count. Under Continental League rules, if a team leaves the field for more than 20 minutes, it forfeits the game. The Warriors forfeited the game.
Aside from the delay and the searches, the incident caused personal discomfort for several members of the D.C. Dodgers team who had once been inmates at Lorton.
There were other inconveniences for visiting teams. Soon, other players began complaining that Lorton was too far to travel for games, while umpires griped that they had to wait around too long after a game before they were allowed to leave.
"The whole experience just left a bad taste in some people's mouths," Commissioner King recalled. "Some guys just decided they never want to go to Lorton again."
But that, said Joe Chisley, a member of the league's championship Indian Athletics Baseball Club, should not make the difference. "We have to do something for the boys at Lorton before they get out," he said.
If the league's vote holds during reconsideration hearings today, the Lorton Warriors will revert to a sandlot team, playing pickup games among themselves or against whatever charity group shows up with gloves, bats and balls.
"Being in a varsity league means a lot," said Hicks, the baseball coach. "You need a disciplined mentality. You must have continuity in your life. You can't be getting into trouble and getting sent to the 'hole' every week and play ball. You have to be dedicated enough to miss the 'Wide World of Sports' on TV for practice.
Despite losing some of their star players to work-release programs, the Lorton Warriors managed to compile a 13-9 record last season. According to Commissioner King, they did it without once being fined or having any players ejected from a game.
"Now I can't say that for some of our uptown teams," King said.
Looking over the empty prison bleachers and fog-covered field, assistant coach Jeff Swan, also an inmate, said someday people will see that Lorton has some of the finest players in the league.
"When the stands are full and people are shoutin' and cussin,' you think you're at Shea Stadium," Swan said. "We got a lot of what you call 'untapped resource.' Jus' wait till the sun comes out."