With a week to play, Vienna Post 180 has a precarious one-game lead in the 17th District American Legion baseball league race as the eight teams wind up their schedules and prepare for the league tournament beginning July 30.
Good hitting and experienced pitching have carried Vienna to a 13-4 mark, but the real key to its success may have more to do with hamburgers and sodas than balls and strikes.
Every Sunday following home games (played at Madison High School), Vienna Manager Burt Crump meets his team back at Post 180 for a postgame get-together. Over burgers and cold drinks, the players and coaches rehash the day's action and as they unwind after an afternoon in the heat, they become more than just teammates -- they become friends.
"I really think it helps," said left-handed pitcher Brian Render. "The main reason we win is because we're a team. There are no cliques."
Crump agrees. "I want the boys to know that we're serious about playing baseball, but I also want them to have a good time. If you're not enjoying what you're doing, you might as well not do it."
Except for a recent slump, Vienna has thoroughly enjoyed the season. The pitchers credit the offense and the hitters speak of the pitching staff, but together, they form what Crump calls "about the best group of boys I've had" in nine years of managing in the Legion program.
The offense averaged 13 runs a game and powered the club to a 12-1 start. Ironically, the leaders at bat are Steve Fry and Mike Miescier, neither of whom played ball in the spring. They attend Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, respectively, and although they don't play baseball at school, they have spent their summer vacation trouncing opposing pitchers. Fry is hitting .392; Miescier's average is at .391 and he has 16 RBI.
Sixteen-year-old shortstop Steve Render carries a .393 average and third baseman John Cook is at .415 with 19 RBI. Catcher Mike Hall, hitting .284, is an inspirational team leader.
Hall, a senior at Oakton High School and an all-Northern Region selection this past season, is playing his fourth summer for Crump and the Vienna post. When asked the differences between this summer's team and teams of the past, he immediately said, "Pitching depth and team unity.
"Vienna has always been a baseball town," said Hall. "Other teams may only have nine or 10 ten players show up, but we get the whole team."
Many of the Vienna players point to their manager as the strength behind this intangible force. Along with the Sunday parties they mention his "one-team" rule as having a very positive impact.
While many players around the league also play for Clark Griffith and Credit Union teams, Crump makes it clear to his charges that they cannot play for his and other teams simultaneously. Miescier said this rule is very important because "there is no conflict between leagues and it helps to give us a sense of belonging to one team."
Crump's explanation is much simpler. Including nonleague games, "we play four nights a week and that's enough baseball for kids this age."
He also doesn't want to burn out a pitching staff that is as deep as any in the league and could be a major advantage at tournament time. Led by 18-year-olds, Bob Timmins, Brian Render, Jay Simpson and Todd Workman, it is the most experienced staff Crump has had in Vienna.
Through games of last week, Timmins was 5-1 with an earned run average under 2 and Simpson was 5-1 with an ERA of 2.25. Render, a second-team All-Metropolitan selection for O'Connell this spring, is headed for Virginia Tech on a partial scholarship and is often overpowering with a fastball that has been clocked as fast as 85 m.p.h.
If Vienna finishes the regular season in first place, it will receive a bye in the first round of the league tournament. The tournament winner will advance to the state tournament in August. Whether this Vienna team continues to win remains to be seen but, for certain, whatever Crump's athletes do, they'll do it together.