For local colleges the coming of fall is the beginning of baseball season. Six local schools have been playing fall baseball for the last five years, much to their coaches' delight.

There no question that playing in the fall has helped our programs greatly." George Mason coach and athletic director Hap Spuhler said. "We tell our freshmen that by playing in the fall they actually start the spring as sophomores.They already have a season under their belts."

The season is 20 games with each of the six schools meeting one another four times. Defending champion American, George Washington, Howard, Catholic and Georgetown join George Mason in the league.

Baseball is one spot where little George Mason can look its larger local rivals right in the eye. The Patriots have won the fall league twice and are currently in first place with a 9-4 record. American is right behind at 8-5, followed by Catholic at 7-6, George Washington and Howard at 6-7 and Georgetown at 3-10.

"It's nice for our kids too do well against Division I competition." Spuhler said. "It has to be good for our program. During the spring we're scheduling more and more Division I schools because we know we can play with them."

Spuhler and American coach Dee Frady expect the title to be decided next weekend when their teams play three games. Frady, while happy with the fall program, is not happy to be in second place.

"I'm disappointed with the way we've played," he said. 'I really think we should be better than 8-5.

"Our pitching is the question mark. For the most part we've gotten good offense and good defense. After that it becomes a question of getting good pitching. If we do, we win."

Frady had gotten excellent pitching from junior Paul Prohoniak, who has a 3-1 record and has a pair of two-hitters and a one-hitter.

Offensively, Scott Fitzgerald, with a .468 average and four home runs, Larry Fowler with a .400 average, and Rob Kimble, .383. have led the way. All are sophomores.

George Washington coach Mike Toomey also has seen good hitting go to waste. His team is batting .287 but early lost four one-run games.

"If you're going to be in one-run games you better win a lot of them if you hope to be a contender." Toomey said. "We'll get better though. We're a young team, but we gained a lot of experience when we made the playoffs last spring."

One man Toomey can count on is shortstop Jim Goss. The junior from Churchill High is batting .391 and Toomey calls him "a definite prospect. If he doesn't get drafted this spring, someone's missing the boat."

Spuhler also thinks he has a pro prospect in his shortstop, two-time NAIA honorable mention All-America Stan Reese.Reese came back from a serious auto accident several years ago and is hitting .442 this fall. He has gotten a lot of support from freshman first baseman Kevin Miller, who is hitting .456, and Dave Miller (no relation) .400.

Catholic, which had its best year last spring, advancing to the NCAA regional in Middletown, Conn., has a new coach, Tim McCorwick.

McCormick, the catcher on that 18-8 team, has been getting the bulk of his offense from left fielder Harry Blumenkrantz, who is hitting .333, pitcher-outfielder Mark Travaglini, .326. and infielder Al Perez, .306.

Like GW and AU, Catholic's problem has been pitching, although freshman John Sieve (2-0, 2.94 ERA) has been a bright spot.

All the coaches would like to win the fall championship and readily admit they compete hard. "This isn't just fun and games by any means," Toomey said.

But in the end, the fall is just a warmup for the spring. The coaches get to look at their freshmen and work out a set lineup, the players get solid competition and someone becomes the champion.

"It's the best thing that's ever happened to local college baseball," Frady said. "It gives us, all a head start in the spring."