Put simply, Victor Price loves baseball.
In the back yard of his Great Falls home, he has his own field of dreams, Vic's Field, home of the Astros, one of two Little League teams he coaches. It's a field complete with bleachers, a batting cage, a generator and the laughter of children running for the big score.
And he's a Little League volunteer extraordinaire.
It was through Price's efforts that baseball fields used by the Great Falls Little League were completely redone earlier this year. Every morning this spring, Price rose at 5 a.m. to water the two fields because they had no irrigation. Because the fields, which are at Forestville Elementary School, had fallen into disrepair, he initiated a campaign to replace the sod and then installed it. He put in a new scoreboard, flagpole and batting cage and built equipment boxes for the helmets, bats, hats and gloves.
At the same time, he coaches the Astros, the Little League majors team of his son, Mickey, 12, and the Orioles, a minors team of his son, Timmy, 10, and holds practices on his field.
As a result of Price's handiwork, he was named the Great Falls Little League Volunteer of the Year. He also has been recognized as the national Volunteer of the Year by Little League Baseball, headquartered in Williamsport, Pa.
"There are almost a million adults doing volunteer work for Little League," said Scott Rosenberg, assistant to the president of Little League Baseball. "We also receive many hundreds of nominations for Volunteer of the Year. Winning the award is a real honor, and it means that Price has done something really significant."
Price, 48, the owner of a tree service business and a minor league baseball player for five years, said he is merely sharing the passion for the sport he learned from his father, Dr. Neel Price, who built a baseball field on the family's Fairfax farm. "Baseball is a contagious thing," said Price, who began volunteering with Little League four seasons ago.
Great Falls's Nike Fields at Forestville Elementary School were built a decade ago on an abandoned Nike missile site. The missile infrastructure is still intact below the surface, which gives the field a certain cachet, but above ground the conditions had deteriorated. The Great Falls Little League board authorized Price to negotiate with Fairfax County officials to obtain permission to overhaul the fields.
"Vic is one of a kind--the most positive person I know," said Andy Somerville, a member of the Great Falls Little League board. "What he's accomplished for the community is just awesome. We're lucky to have him."
Two years ago, Price, following the role model of his father, decided to build his backyard field, which he uses not only for daily practice of his teams in the spring and fall, but for an informal baseball clinic for players and parents.
The regulation-size Little League field has one drawback, though. A briar patch that runs down most of the left field line has become a baseball graveyard for dozens of balls, which lie unretrieved by players and coaches who are loath to hack their way through the brambles.
Price, whose business is also on several acres behind his home, spent about $10,000 of his own money to build the field. Because he did much of his own labor or had his employees help, he kept the cost below market rates, which he estimates at $50,000.
With his sunburned face, mustache and Astros uniform, Price looks like one of the Ragtime-era baseball players of days gone by.
His reverence for the game and its traditions seems equally old-fashioned. Umpires, for instance, are addressed as "Mr. Ump" and players are urged to treat them, as well as opposing players and coaches, with respect. Price also tries to instill in his players a respect for the traditions of the game, for the national anthem and for patriotic symbols.
Astros practices are tough workouts, but fast-paced and fun. Teamwork and mutual support are stressed, and during games the players are urged to maintain a constant chatter in support of teammates at the plate, with Price leading the way. Every batter is given his own moniker for this purpose. For example, "Hum little Tim Bub, Tim hum batter batter hum Tim Bub."
A particularly popular feature of the practices and scrimmages held at Vic's field are the impromptu chalk talks Price gives, based on his years playing center field in the farm systems of the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates.
The result, said Great Falls Little League President Buddy Eller, is that "kids love to play for Vic and parents love to have their kids on his team. We always have far more kids who want to be on his team than we can put on it."
Joe Kennedy, a fellow team manager and board member added, "I've seen Vic have teams at the top of the standings and at the bottom, and it makes no difference in how he treats the kids."
Price played Little League baseball growing up in Fairfax County. As a student at Langley High School, he played baseball and football and was named Athlete of the Year in 1969.
Under Price's prodding, the 10-year-old Great Falls Little League has reintroduced an opening day parade and home-run contest and added a concession stand.
"This makes it more fun for families to hang around the ballpark," Price said. "Little kids see their older brothers and sisters playing and they start saying 'I want to play baseball.' That's the way you make fans and build up the game."
Even though his existing commitments keep him on the field for 30 to 40 hours some weeks, Price said now is not the time to slacken the pace. He is already working on new projects, including a new practice field and a field for Babe Ruth baseball, both scheduled for completion by next spring near the existing Nike fields.
The centerpiece of the complex will be a monument to all Great Falls residents who have served in the armed forces. For Price, locating a monument at the baseball field is a logical move.
"Baseball is a game, but it's more than that, too," he said. "It's part of our heritage."
CAPTION: Manager Vic Price, above, watches the Little League Astros practice. Price spends between 30 and 40 hours some weeks at the field he built on his property--coaching or as a one-man grounds crew. At right, Ross Kelly receives congratulations from teammate Matthew Hozik, right, during a game in mid-September. Below, Andrew McLean is tagged out by catcher Phil Aroria as he slides for home.
CAPTION: Pitcher Timmy Price, 10, blows dirt off the pitcher's mound during batting practice. Teamwork and mutual support are stressed on the diamond his father built.
CAPTION: Little League Volunteer of the Year Victor Price instructs catcher Phil Aroria. "Baseball is a game, but it's more than that, too," Price says. "It's part of our heritage."
CAPTION: Shortstop Ross Kelly casts a long shadow during a late afternoon practice at Vic's Field in Great Falls. Manager Victor Price carved the regulation-size Little League field out of his back yard, where two teams practice regularly.