Since the Senators closed shop in 1971, the Washington area has been considered a baseball graveyard by many.
But baseball fans can take heart. The game is very much alive on suburban diamonds. It continues through the American Legion, county recreation, Babe Ruth, industrial and numerous other area-wide sandlot leagues.
As has been a tradition each summer, leagues in Maryland, Virginia and the District will field teams that play an entertaining but largely-ignored brand of baseball. Unfortunately, the fan support for many of these leagues has often been limited to a relatively small number of loyal fans who turn out to see friends or relatives play.
In most cases, the games are free and the level of play excellent. Spectators are treated to an enjoyable afternoon or evening of baseball.
In Maryland, summer baseball can be found in several locations. There are separate American Legion leagues in Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Always popular with high school-age athletes looking to improve their skills, legion ball is one of the oldest forms of organized baseball.
In Prince George's, the league will field seven teams through posts in College Park, Cheverly, Greenbelt, Clinton, Mayo, Indian Head and Oxon Hill. High school players from the schools in those areas will comprise most of the players on each squad. This year, in the effort to find better playing conditions, many of the Prince George's legion games will be played at Montgomery regional parks.
Elsewhere in Prince George's, the Babe Ruth League will again be in session. The Senior Division (age 16-18) will consist of nine teams representing Bowie, Bladensburg, Beltsville, Clinton, Greenbelt, Lanham, Temple Hills, Brandywine and New Carrollton.
"If a kid has the potential, the ability and the tenacity, it is advantageous to play both legion and Babe Ruth places," said Babe Ruth League Senior Division President John Schmitt. "The leagues are not in competition with one another, so a lot of the kids do double-duty. If they are serious about playing ball, the experience will help them in the long run."
Montgomery County's American Legion league will comprise six teams: Wheaton, Gaithersburg, Rockville, Damascus, Bethesda and Silver Spring.
Montgomery County also has another summer league. The Montgomery County Baseball Association is a recreational league made up of five divisions (Pee Wee, Midget, Junior, Senior and Major) that include players ranging in age from elementary school to college. Although the three younger divisions have finished up, the Senior and Major divisions will continue throughout the summer.
Many of the players in the Montgomery Legion League also play in the MCBA. The legion teams will play on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; MCBA games are on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. This creates a rather hectic schedule for a youngster's summer, but also provides an excellent means for aspiring players to gain experience.
A fixture in the area for more than 50 years, the seven-team Industrial League is one of the chief showcases for older baseball talent. Several of the franchises have been in existence for more than 50 years. Players of college age or older fill most of the rosters, which are dotted with former minor leaguers and players over 30.
"People come up to me all the time and tell me they weren't aware that this level of baseball was being played in the Washington area," said Charles Blackburn, commissioner of the Industrial and Prince George's legion leagues. "A lot of talented ballplayers have passed through these leagues. With these leagues, fans can come out and see nine innings of good, solid baseball. There are a lot of empty seats just begging to be filled up."
In Virginia, the Clark Griffith League has begun its 41st season. The six-team league will play a 30-game season divided into three 10-game parts, with each team playing the others twice during that period. The minimum age eligible to participate in the league is 17; the maximum is 20.
The 17th District American Legion league has eight Northern Virginia Post teams playing a 21-game schedule culminating on July 30 with a district tournament. The tournament champion advances to the state tourament in Lynchburg.
Last summer, Post 225, with players from Falls Church, O'Connell and Jeb Stuart, won the league championship.
The Fairfax Credit Union baseball league has begun its eighth season and Northern Virginia's least known league plays perhaps the best brand of baseball in the area.
Many former professional players and current college standouts make up nine teams that compete in the 24-game season. The regular season is followed by a tournament, with the champion receiving a berth in the national amateur championship in Youngstown, Ohio.
League rules restrict participation to players who reside within 50 miles of Fairfax City, and though no age limit exists, three teams have a 20-year-old limit to enable them to play in the Clark Griffith League. The games are played at Chantilly, Robinson, and Oakton high schools and at Occoquan Park in Fairfax.
In Washington, the D.C. High School league features a very competitive blend of talent.
The teams are comprised primarily (but not totally) of high school teams that keep their varsity teams intact and play together as a unit. Seven teams will compete including Archbishop Carroll, McKinley Tech, Interhigh champion Ballou, Theodore Roosevelt, Sidwell Friends, King Greenleaf and the Caribe Cardinals. All games will take place at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center on Michigan Avenue, NE.
The Banneker Recreation Baseball League, a tradition in D.C. summer baseball for five decades, has folded. The league, a favorite of many older players, featured some of the oldest amateur baseball franchises in the area. Dwindling membership, lack of interest and poor fields were factors in the decision to disband.
A number of players and teams that played in the Banneker League will participate in the Continental League, which will play a Sunday schedule in Clinton.