Randy Johnson, who is 10 years old, chases foul balls for a living.
He presented nine of them in a grocery bag to the ticket seller at an Alexandria Dukes' game this week. The baseballs, the fruit of three weeks of knee-scraping battle against other kids with the same livelihood, brought Randy Johnson $4.50.
Such youngsters as Randy Johnson fit into the Dukes' grand scheme to avoid losing money, according to Frank B. Higdon, secretary-treasurer of the team a certified public accountant and a former center fielder with the Atmore (Ala.) Tigers of the Class D South Alabama League during the campaign of 1939.
"A new baseball costs us $2," Higdon said during a game this week when the Winston-Salem Red Sox shellacked the Dukes in a front of 406 paying customers. "We can buy a ball back from these kids around her for 50 cents. Now you can see the economics in that."
The Dukes, who started the season wearing the uniforms of a team called Stroube's Mobil becouse their own weren't finished, are not what [WORD ILLEGIBLE] board of directors call "a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] proposition."
When the Dukes came into existance in April, the team was authorized to sell 150,000 shares of stock at a $1 a share. So far, 60,000 shares or so have been sold to about 200 people. The prospects of dividends from the stock, Higdon said, are laughable. "If you were a high-roller, you could buy control of the team right now," Higdon said.
With the Dukes drawing between 700 and 800 fans a game, General Manager Michael Halbrooks estimates the team will end up about 20,000 fans short of the break-even point for the season, an estimated attendance of 70,000.
The people who have bought between 1,000 and 2,500 shares of the Dukes - the 12 members of the board of directors - are men who "like to make money," according to Higdon, but who have put off that desire in the name of baseball.
The directors include a past president of the American Medical Association, a man in the concrete business, a drugstore executive and an entrepeneur who owns businesses ranging from a filling station to the Yum Yum Boutique.
Like many of the directors, George W. Stroube, who owns the Yum Yum Boutique, is a baseball nut of some standing in the Washington area. For years he had a box seat near third base for Washington Senator games. He owns a winning industrial league team, Stroube's Mobil, the team that lent its uniforms to the Dukes.
Stroube said he bought into the Dukes because he wanted some kind of professional baseball back in Washington and he could afford gambling $2,000 on stock to see if there are enough fans to support the Dukes.
"The whole idea of the Dukes," according to team President A. Eugene Thomas, who owns a construction company in Alexandria, "is that for a couple of bucks people can come out to the ball park and watch ball that is something better than high school.
Thomas, who spend 21 years in organized baseball and was a pitcher for Benson, N.C., in the old Tobacco State League, said the Dukes are an unquilified success considering the two-month crunch from the time the Alexnadria City Council approved an agreement with the team to opening day on April 18.
There are people in Alexandria, however, who loathe the Dukes.
In a flyer attached to the windshields of cars at a Duke game at Four Mile Run Stadium, the team was called "the cancer that is eating away at out tax monies."
George Pope, president of the Lynhaven Civic Association in the primarily black working-class neighborhood that surrounds the ballpark, helped circulate the flyer. He unsuccessfully sued to keep the team out of the neighborhood, and when he does not call the Dukes a cancer he calls them a disgrace.
Pope claims that the money the city has spent on improving the field, more than $162,000 at last count, could have been better spent on tennis courts and soccer fields planned in the neighborhood before the baseball agreement with the city was signed.
The man responsible for diverting the money to the Dukes according to Pope and a handfull of other residents who object to the team, is Alexandria Mayor Frank E. Mann.
Mann, in what he terms his greatest triumph as mayor, came up with the idea for a minor league team in the city a year and a half ago. He persuaded four other members of the City Council to vote to renovate the field behind the Cora Kelly Elementary so it would meet minor league standards and he contacted such local businessmen as Thomas and Higdon to run the team.
"The mayor and the Dukes have alienated this community," Pope said. "The team represents nothing more than a payoff from the mayor to his backers who like baseball."
Mann calls Pope's criticism the same "sour grapes" he's heard since he proposed getting the baseball team last winter.
"The ball park has been converted from the mud hole it was to a first class park that can be used by anybody who wants it for free," Mann said. When the Dukes are not playing, the park can be used by other organized teams in Alexandria.
The mayor says the Dukes have attracted neighborhood youngsters to games at night, keeping them off the streets. Recent figures on juvenile crime in the are around the ballpark show a decrease, Mann said.
The owners of the Dukes, who've heard complaints ranging from expressions of outrage over the $9,000 in overtime that the city spent getting the park ready for the season to accusations that the team really is owned by the operators of illegal bingo operations, say they can't understand why people object to such a wholesome activity as baseball.
"I can't imagine how anybody can be against it," said Higdon. "Why, being against the Dukes is like being against the U.S. Marines." Mann claims there are not 25 people in Alexandria who oppose the team.
To make sure the Dukes endure, the team is looking for a major league affiliation - a connection that would pay team salaries, buy uniforms and pay for half of the team's on-the-road expenses.
At a Duke game this week, Bobby Bragan, president of the 150-team minor league association, said the Dukes' survival as an independent team this season makes it likely that a major league club wil be interested in Alexandria.
Bragan said the Four Mile Run Stadium isn't well enough equipped to allow the Dukes to jump from a Class A to a Class AA team in the Eastern or Southern leagues. There is a chance, Bragan said, that the Dukes could join the International League, a Class AAA team, with such teams as Richmond and Tidewater. That depends, Bragan said, on whether the Dukes can get a new stadium.
Thomas and the other members of the board of directors are now preparing a presentation for October before the City Council, asking the city to build a $1 million multipurpose stadium seating about 8,000 people.
The city recently purchased six acres of vacant land near the intersection of the Capital Beltway and Telegraph Road. The land, according to City Manager Douglas Harmon, has been discussed as the possible site for a new stadium.
With or without a new stadium, the owners or the Dukes say the team will survive in Alexandria. "Right now," said Higdon, "We are almost solvent."