The baseball season is over for most area college teams, gone the way of final exams and players scattering about the country in search of summer or, the seniors shudder, the inevitable, first full-time job.
But not at George Mason University, where every game, every intrasquad and batting practice is approached as though there were proscouts hidden in the trees near right field on the Rte. 50 campus' diamond.
For the Patriots, the exams may be nearly over but the baseball season, blessedly, is not. When it does end, against Navy next Sunday, most of the Patriots will swap their gold, green and white double-knits for the uniform of one of the area's summer industrial teams.
George Mason's reputation for winning in college baseball is, perhaps, the best recruiting tool that its coach and athletic director, Hap Spuhler, has had since that first game 12 years ago when he had to pull two students out of a physical education class to field a team. One had never played baseball before, he remembers.
Since then, the Patriots, who play in the NCAA's Division II and have applied for Division I status next year, have compiled some impressive records during both the locally concentrated fall schedule and the spring season.
The weather is college baseball's worst foe. Spuhler said as he watched an intrasquad practice. As a result, the Patriots schedule as many games as possible during the spring and encourage players to compete in sumer leagues so they will be in shape for the fall.
Coming off a 13-8 fall season, the Patriots have a 34-15-1 record this spring. No other area school schedules nearly that many games and some of the Patriots' detractors argue that their lopsided victory record is partly attributable to scheduling easier opponents.
Spuhler says George Mason's success lies in the very good area high school players who elect to attend the largely commuter college. The number of good high school baseball players is dwindling somewhat, he says, as a result of the suburban soccer boom.
"The success of our recruiting," Spuhler adds, "is also because we play a lot of games and they will be seen by scouts."
Surprisingly, he and assistant Oscar Sessions say, no Patriot has ever been drafted by the big leagues, a point that perplexes Spuhler when he reflects on some college players who have been drafted.
This year, the Patriots' prospects appear better, according to Spuhler and the team's new pitching coach, former Washington Senators ace Dick Bosman.
Bosman regularly breaks away from his job at a local car dealership to help with what he describes as "far and away the best college pitching staff I have seen."
Reluctant to single out players. Bosman nevertheless tapped Craig Burlingame, Rick Vaughn and Pete Sausville as worthy of big-league careers. All are strike-out artists.
Burlingame, of Falls Church, has 48 strikeouts in 45 innings: Sausville, from Fairfax, has 45 in 46 innings and Vaughn, of Alexandria, has 35 in 36 innings.
In their first at-bats in their college careers this season, both seniors homered. Sausville's came on his first and only swing and he jokingly tells teammates he won't bat again for the Patriots for fear of ruining his perfect 1,000 batting average.
Burlingame says he'll bat again, if asked. "The worst I could do would be to end up at .500," he muses.
Two Patriots are nationally ranked.
Team captain and center fielder Dave Miller, of Clifton, is third in the country in stolen bases in Division II. He has succeeded on 48 of 52 attempts in 45 games, for 1.07 average per game. (The average, on which ranking is computed, is used because colleges have widely varying schedules.) The 48 steals are more than anyone in divisions II and III have made this season, the NCAA said.
First baseman Stan Reese, of Fairfax, hitting 401 after 46 games, is ranked fifth in Division II in runs batted in with 63, an average of 1.37 a game. His 63 runs are the most batted in by any player in divisions II or III, according to the NCAA.
Like Reese and the others, Miller would like a chance to try out for a pro career. "That's been my dream every year. But in the past two seasons, I'd just get into the 30s (in stolen bases) when I'd pull a muscle and have to stop.
"I'd like to be given a shot. Usually when you play ball this far along in your career, it's a big part of your life . . . I've gotten what I wanted out of school and that was an education. In the long run that's what matters. But, still, I'd like to get a shot . . ."