It matters little to the Alexandria Dukes that they will open their baseball season tonight at Salem, Va., wearing borrowed pants.

The uniforms have not yet arrived. Neither have the bats. The team does not supply shoes or equipment bags. And the salary, even for the son of Mickey Mantle, is $500 maximum. That's per month.

But what this team lacks in amenities, it makes up for in emotion. The new, independent entry in the Class A Carolina League has successfully gathered up those who felt overlooked, underestimated. And some who just don't know.

"I was supposed to catch on with the Mets in '74 when I got out of Montgomery College," left fielder Elwood Holland, "but the guy who was supposed to sign me passed away. So there went one shot right there."

Georgetown's Pete Garrity had a close call with the majors this winter, at the Minnesota Twins' camp.

"The night before tryouts," said Garrity, "My roommate turned on the air conditioner. The next day I was stiff. I didn't have velocity on my pitches."

Starting second baseman Gary Pellant was living the beach life in California, fixing roofs and "letting my wife support me" when he heard that the Alexandria Dukes were going to be formed. Pelland led the Class A Lone Star League in triples last year while batting .315. He had never been drafted, "possibly because I was lost in the shuffle."

The Dukes called him, and he and Paul Gilmartin, who also played in the Lone Star League last year, got on a bus.

"It took us 72 hours to get here," said Pellant. "If I had gone by myself I'd be in a straight jacket."

Pellant spent the winter trying to catch on with the Mariners, Cubs, Giants and A's. "There are not many more disappointments I could have," said Pellant. "My main goal is to get with a major league affiliate and take it from there.

"This is something I wanted to do all my life. If nothing comes up, it's not the end of the world. I just love playing. I really enjoy playing."

The players, for most part, are powerless to explain what hypnotizes them into at least a temporary life of boring bus rides and near-poverty existence. Whatever it is, it is not reserved for the young and foolish.

The manager of the team is 54 years old and had been out of baseball seven years, owning and managing a lucrative camping ground in Florida. Les Peden is back for another try at a dream that began 25 years ago.

Peden played for the Washington Senators in 1953. He came to bat 28 times and had seven hits.

He has managed minor league clubs in Des Moines, Shreveport, Portland and Tacoma, and scouted for the Chicago Cubs in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.

"I got out, I guess, because I was just tired," said Peden. "But I was miserable without baseball.

"It is just something that gets in your blood and you want to do it. It's all I've ever done, really, from the time I was big enough to play ball."

Like his players, Peden has visions of the major leagues, of taking his place beside Billy Martin, Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver.

"You always have that desire to manage in the big leagues," said Peden. "That's all you live for. I've been so close two or three times that you get your hopes up and think, if I try one more time . . .

"But maybe I'll be in my grave by then, huh?"

A grin peeks out from under Peden's borrowed George Washington University cap, revealing rows of chipped teeth, yellowed by too much tobacco. It is the smile of a man who knows what he wants, and has found it again.

The players seem a little more uncertain. They wonder if they are fooling themselves, if they are wasting time. It is just below the surface.

"Mainly, it's just frustrating," said starting right fielder Ray Boyer. "I haven't had my foot in the door without it getting slammed. I singed as a free agent with Atlanta, but I never had a chance. They released me in a month.

"I just thought I should have a chance. I never cared where. Right now, this means everything."

"Everyone wants to do something," said center fielder Jeff White, clad in a three-piece suit and tinted sunglasses. White is on a year's leave of absence from a job as a computer operator for the National Bank of Washington to try to make it in baseball.

White signed with the Royals in 1973 right out of Wakefield High School in Virginia. He was cut. Since then he has played only sandlot and pickup ball, but he had such a good year last year for the Arlington Chargers of the Maryland Industrail League that he caught the bug again.

"My boss is behind me all the way," said White. "He knew I had it in my heart to play ball."

White leaves behind his computer. Pedens sells his campground. Pellant uproots his wife and moves 3,000 miles. And Mantle, who officially signed a contract yesterday, forsakes a job selling insurance.

"I was just tired of trying to hustle people into buying insurance," said Mantle. "It would be crazy for me to try to be as good as my father was. I believe he was the best that ever played."

Added Mantle, "I haven't played in three years (since college) but I've set my goals pretty high. I hope to be in the majors in two years. I'm not saying this is a dream. I just love to play ball."

Holland, who is from Colesville, lives at home, referees high school basketball games and does odd jobs for an older couple. He was a standout at Howard two years ago.

"In my opinion," said Holland, "I've been a pro for the last few years but no one has selected me.

"One of my uncles told me once to never give up, keep knocking on the door. For once in my life, this is something I really want to do. I've finally been let in."