It took only two cars to get the Washington Blacksox to their away games. Five guys in one, five guys in the other, with the bats and balls split between them.
It wasn't exactly comfortable, shortstop Clem Martin recalled, but that's how Bowie's venerable semiprofessional baseball team went on road trips as far away as New Jersey and South Carolina in the 1940s. "I got locked up a couple of times for speeding," Martin confided with a smile.
The glory days of shoestring-budget baseball were fondly remembered yesterday as veterans of Prince George's County's predominantly black sandlot teams gathered for the dedication of a park and two playing fields in Bowie.
The newly renovated fields at Blacksox Park were christened in honor of the Blacksox and the Mitchellville Tigers, the teams that first set down rough diamonds there.
The Galesville Hot Sox, the Pomonkey Browns, the Laurel All-Stars, the Vista Yankees -- this was no Little League, no office softball on weekends. These teams, made up of men who played baseball in college or the military, played a serious and competitive season in baseball leagues that encompassed the Washington area and the East Coast.
The early teams, starting with the Blacksox in 1928, were a haven for black talent at a time when African Americans were barred from major league baseball, and the teams became a recruiting ground for scouts from the Negro Leagues.
But even after Jackie Robinson broke the major leagues' color barrier in 1947, the Prince George's sandlot teams carried on, becoming a source of community pride and weekend entertainment. A few white players started joining the teams in the 1960s.
"You got so many players who should have been in the majors, but you didn't have the scouting system coming into the sandlots," said Don Tolson, who played for the Clinton Astros in the 1960s.
Yesterday's ceremony and reunion were a chance to settle old scores and rehash great plays. Like the time in 1954 when the Glenarden Braves ran out of batters in a game against the Vista Yankees and had to turn to home-run king Elijah "Tiny" Norris -- whose leg was in a cast up to his hip.
"We brought him up to the plate on crutches, and he cleared the park!" marveled Raymond Smith, 78, a barber from Glenarden.
Did it win the game for them?
"No, we lost 4-6," Smith said.
"No," said Norris, touching Smith's arm as he cast his memory in reverse. "No, we lost 6-5 in the 10th inning."
Norris's son, Jeff, said he was grateful for the ballpark dedication. "This was the big thing when they were coming up, and they've never gotten any recognition," he said.
But he said that his father doesn't talk much about his baseball days. Like many of his old teammates, the elder Norris, now 67 and a retired engineer in Cheverly, is more consumed by golf these days.
Guest of honor at the dedication was Buck Leonard, now 88, one of the few Negro League stars accepted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, who made an inspirational visit to the Blacksox in 1961.
The ceremony included a remembrance of Blacksox alumnus Duane Christian, 42, of Oxon Hill, an aide to Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown who died with his boss in an April plane crash in Croatia.
Blacksox owner and coach William "Doffey" Jones explained that he was inspired to start the team in 1928 after seeing "lots of young people hanging around on a street corner with nothing to do but steal off a soda truck or throw stones at people."
He spoke of the importance of sports to lend structure to a young person's life, noting that of all his players, "I only remember two of them getting into any trouble." CAPTION: The Glory Days of Baseball: Elijah "Tiny" Norris, left, James Smith and Clem Martin, former members of the predominantly black sandlot teams in Prince George's County, attend the dedication of a park in Bowie in honor of the Washington Blacksox and the Mitchellville Tigers. Such teams were a haven for black talent at a time when African Americans were barred from major league baseball.(This graphic was not available) CAPTION: Buck Leonard, one of the few Negro League stars accepted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, is honored at the ballpark dedication. Leonard is applauded by Rock Newman, left rear, and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), right.