His old neighborhood just inside the District near Western Avenue NW hasn't changed much in 40 years, says Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3G chairman Allen Beach.
But Chevy Chase Playground Park at 41st and Livingston streets NW, where Beach hit pop flies and stole bases as a child, is now a sought-after site for amateur softball matches. Teams from law and accounting firms, churches and corporations compete there all summer.
Some Chevy Chase parents, angered that the neighborhood softball field has been reserved for citywide league play for the rest of the summer, are calling the bookings an abuse of their community playground.
They say the players monopolize their field, drink beer on and around the playground, hit long flies that endanger young children in the nearby "tot lot" and create traffic and parking problems for Livingston Street residents.
Bill Danielson, a former Price Waterhouse & Co. accountant, manages the Certified Public Accountants League, one of those that use the Chevy Chase field regularly. His players do not drink at games, he said.
"A lot of the people in the neighborhoods are concerned about things like drinking, trash problems, the language of the players, and you can't really blame them," he said.
Danielson, who lives just two blocks from the field, in Chevy Chase, Md., as do several of his umpires, said his league repays the community by contributing equipment to local youth teams.
"I know how difficult it is for kids' teams to get sponsors," Danielson said. "A lot of local businesses will sponsor adult teams because that's who supports them and gives them the most exposure. But we feel that it's the kids who really need our support."
Such efforts do not satisfy residents critical of the ballfield use, however.
"It's not that I have anything against softball--I play softball too," said Maria Reff, an 11-year resident of Reno Road NW. Reff said her three young children are "intimidated" by the adult players who use the field every weeknight from 6 o'clock to dusk and on Sunday mornings from 10 to noon.
"The situation is abominable," said her husband Herbert Reff. "A playground is supposed to be for kids, and these adult leagues are coming in from outside of the community and taking it over. I come home from work and I want to go out to the playground to play ball with my kid, but I can't."
Chevy Chase's problem is not unique, according to recreation department officials who estimate more than 1,500 softball teams play in the city, 250 from Capitol Hill alone.
Softball, once primarily the pastime of would-be major leaguers, is becoming increasingly popular among Washington-area professionals, both as a form of exercise and a social mixer for singles, officials said.
"It's a very community-oriented sport, and we're proud that our fields are so popular," Recreation Department spokesman Larry Brown said.
Arthur Fawcett, assistant development and planning director, said the city owns about 70 athletic fields large enough for softball and reserves some of those for football and soccer.
Only three city softball fields are designated exclusively for adult use, Fawcett said. About 33 other large fields are owned by the National Park Service, with use-permits granted by his department, Fawcett said.
Fawcett said he also has received complaints of over-use from residents in the Palisades and Friendship neighborhoods, but none have been as vocal as those in Chevy Chase.
Last week, about 100 Chevy Chase residents, including the Reffs, signed a petition asking the Department of Recreation to eliminate adult league play at their neighborhood playground.
Their ANC considered the issue at two meetings, April 18 and May 16.
According to ANC spokesmen, Recreation Department officials have told the group the field is reserved for weeknights, Sunday mornings and occasional Saturdays throughout the summer, and all the residents can do is to ask the department not to reserve the field in 1984.
James Pierce, assistant unit operations director for the department, calls the Chevy Chase conflict a "tug of war" between the city's growing number of softball aficionados, whose demand for fields far exceeds the city's facilities, and Chevy Chase homeowners who want the local playground for their own use.
"There are a couple of people in the community who are upset about the leagues because of the field's proximity to playground apparatus," he said, referring to the swings and sandbox that some mothers say are dangerously close to the playing field. "But, gosh, why should this playground be treated differently than other city facilities?"
ANC chairman Beach said, however, many of his constituents believe their playground is being singled out by the teams because of its convenient location for players who work in the District and live in the suburbs.
"The people are pretty bitter about this. They feel that their prime time is being taken away from them by people outside the community," Beach said. He added that Livingston Street residents have observed that most of the cars seen at the games bear Maryland and Virginia license plates.
"I feel the playground should be for people in the neighborhood," said Laura Cassagnol, an architect and Livingston Street resident who plays, with her engineer husband Richard, on her company softball team. Her team, she said, uses a field in West Potomac Park away from residential areas and other teams should do likewise.
"People buy homes with certain things in mind: a school, a playground. This is a problem the city should really look into. But it's like pulling teeth," she said.
Cassagnol, 38, said she jogs every morning around the Chevy Chase field but wishes she could jog there some evenings and use the field for occasional batting practice as well.
"I have to clear a path from all the trash in the field whenever I jog," she said.
Beach said residents who spoke at the ANC's two meetings were unanimous in their disapproval of the city's allocation of ballfield permits. However, he said the group's May 16 decision to request the ban of adult league play has met with opposition, particularly from residents who play in leagues.
"There are plenty of fields in the city, but people don't want to go to certain neighborhoods," said John Ross, a 29-year Recreation Department employe who controls the permits for the 33 federally owned fields.
"They don't want to go to Northeast, Southeast, Anacostia; they all want Capitol Hill. If Capitol Hill is filled up, then they go to the Northwest."
Tyrone Brown, the playground director at the Chevy Chase park, said leaguers start requesting permits as early as January.
"The growth of softball in this city has been overwhelming," Brown said. "You have no idea what some people will do to reserve a field." Their tactics include name-dropping, he said.
"We get phone calls from senators' offices, and the aides will say, 'Senator so-and-so would really like to use the field next Saturday,' " Brown said.
Last Thursday night, the field was occupied by four teams from the Certified Public Accountants League, which consists of 20 District accounting firm teams that pay $300 each to cover the costs of umpires and equipment. The league is so popular, manager Danielson said, that "it could be a 30- or 40-team league if I let it."
Danielson, who has managed the league for the past five years, said he limits its membership so that he can control the players' behavior and avoid neighborhood controversy.
Danielson insisted that his players do not consume alcohol at the games. "I make it known unequivocably that if anyone is caught drinking at a rec center they will be thrown out of the league because we just can't afford to take a chance on losing our fields."
Danielson was on hand at Thursday's CPA game. So were Timothy and Christopher Doyle, ages 8 and 11, who bicycled over to the field to watch the accountants' weekly competition.
The boys seemed untroubled by the league's presence. "Wow, that guy can really hit," Tim said, absorbed in the game.
Between innings, he explained that neighborhood children generally use the field between 3 and 6 p.m. but vacate the field at 6 for the adults.
"We like to think we're sending the kids home to dinner," said a Beers & Cutler accountant, with a blue paper cup half filled with what smelled like beer.