For the last six years, Rebecca Scott faithfully has donned her baseball cap, paid her $1.50 admission and settled into her box seat--a metal folding chair next to the announcer's platform--almost every time "my boys" play ball behind an elementary school near the Arlington-Alexandria border.
Of the 423 games played there by her boys--now called the Alexandria Dukes--since they became the Washington area's only professional baseball team in 1978, Scott has missed only six.
"That's when I was in the hospital for six days," she said, regretting the frailty of her 70-year-old body. "Oh, I love these Dukes. I hate so bad they're leaving."
Earlier this week, the Dukes management announced that the championship Class A baseball team was ending its rocky relationship with Alexandria to begin anew in a $1 million stadium being built near Dale City by Prince William County. For years, the Dukes, the Alexandria City Council and the City School Board have been locked into an uneasy partnership that recently collapsed when the council refused to consider spending $1 million to improve a city park for the Dukes.
So when baseball season begins next spring, the Dukes will become the Prince William Pirates, a name that will more closely identify the Pittsburg Pirates farm team with its parent organization. And for people like Rebecca Scott, who say the Carolina League team is more than just a group of men who play ball for money, the Dukes and their games behind Cora Kelly Elementary School will be little more than a bittersweet memory; just so many souvenir caps and hotdogs.
Thursday evening, as the sun dissolved behind the Arlington Ridge, the 68 150-watt flood lights at Four Mile Run Park set a stage for the Dukes and the Durham Bulls.
And almost instantly, fans with seat cushions and some with infants folded over their shoulders began to make their way to the park. The music of the Rolling Stones shrilled over the park's tinny sound system, and the aroma of roasting hotdogs and fresh popcorn was thick in the cooling evening air.
It was a scene that pleases Joseph Berardelli, the Dukes chairman of the board. "This is grassroots baseball at its best," he said. "One of my regrets about moving is that when we go to a better installation, a professional ball park, I hope we don't lose this closeness. I hope we can keep this spirit alive in Prince William County."
From a window in a converted classroom on the northeast corner of the Kelly School, he was selling tickets and engaging in small talk with the faces that have become fixtures among the 400 to 600 fans who typically attend the home games.
One of those faces belongs to Woodrow Wilson Griffin, 65, a retired Arlington firefighter with a passion for baseball.
"I don't miss a game," he said from his perch on the edge of an aluminium bleacher. "Yeah, I'll make the trip to see them play in Woodbridge, but it's hell to lose them. I hate to see them go."
With a Duke up to bat, Griffin's face became a study in concentration, his finely wrinkled skin drawing up tightly into large crows feet near his gray temples. His narrow features appeared even sharper. His thin lips pressed into the space of one.
"I just love this sport," he said after Nelson DelaRosa cracked a home run over the right-field wall, almost directly over Roy Wood's sign for his Fairfax Septic Tank Service.
"You see that sign?" asked Wood, a mountain of a fan, as he pointed with pride to his company's billboard, one of many that line the fence. "That's mine. I support this team. I've missed only one game."
Unlike many of his fellow fans, Wood said he isn't angered by the Dukes move. "I think they should have stayed here as long as the city was going to help them. When the city didn't come through, they had to move. Now I think they'd do better down there."
He said the larger ballpark, which will seat almost 6,000 compared to Four Mile Run's 1,800, will bring the players more attention. And attention is what most minor league players, bent on making it to the major leagues, thrive on.
As Wood talked about the Dukes, Frank Higdon, its secretary-treasurer, suddenly burst into anger. "The Dukes is one of the best things ever to happen to Alexandria," he said. "With all that money Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley spent on that wave machine at a new regional park , he could have helped the Dukes if he wanted to. He doesn't care.
"I hope his surfboard sinks," Hidgon said. "It's all politics."
That's a claim city officials long have denied.
Lou Cook, former school board chairman, said she's simply glad the "shotgun wedding" between the Dukes and the school board is over. When the Dukes sought to sell beer during games on the school-owned property, the school board under Cook consistently blocked them, saying that it would be illegal to sell beer on school grounds.
"I have no malice toward the Dukes or anything against baseball," Cook said. "But we shouldn't have been married in the first place."
Few of the past controversies seemed to matter to the fans after the home team defeated the Bulls 5 to 2.
Kirk Hansen, 10, of Fairfax County, certainly wasn't too concerned. He and 10 others from his Cub Scout Pack 868 were chasing down the victors for autographs.
Later, he said he had mixed feelings over the move. "It's going to be easier for me to get to the games when they move," he said, clutching his new autographs. "But I'm more used to this field and I like it here."