The name in the Carolina League Class A baseball standings still says "Alexandria," just as it did last season.
This year, however, the team's nickname has changed - from Dukes to Mariners. What a world of difference in a word.
The Dukes of '78 were baseball orphans, unwanted independent players that no big-league organization would touch.
The Mariners of '79, by contrast, are part of the Seattle chain. The roster includes bonus babies, high draft choices, prospects, and future American Leaguers.
"I'm absolutely certain that four or five of these guys will make the majors," says Manager Bobby Floyd. "Probably more than that."
Four of this season's Alexandria Mariners, however, are something really special - they are old Dukes in disguise.
"I've reached my goal. It's like being in heaven," says Gary Pellant, one of the four who have gone from being stowaways on baseball's ship to becoming officers of the line.
Last spring, the stocky and intense Pellant drove 3,000 miles from his California home to become a Duke, to try to catch the eye of the game that had no room for him.
Now, he bats cleanup for the Mariners. Two weeks ago he became the first player in the history of professional baseball to hit home runs left- and right-handed in the same inning. It made national news. His bat goes to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
"I've traveled coast to coast . . . played independent ball in Texas and the Carolina League . . . just to get with an organization," says Pellant.
"Now I can finally let my abilities express themselves with somebody actually watching me."
Minor-league baseball is an old-fashioned quest, a young man's gamble on his own gifts. None of the former Dukes has seen a longer shot pay off than Chris Hudson.
After eight seasons as a catcher for Suitland High and the University of Maryland, Hudson assumed that some big-league team somewhere would call him. Not a nibble. So, after graduating last June, he became a Duke - a nondescript one.
When Seattle took over the Alexandria franchise last winter, they offered to pay the expenses of four Duke players to come to their Arizona spring training camp for tryouts. Hudson was not one of the four.
"I'd never been picked for anything in my life, as far as organized baseball goes," said Hudson. "I didn't expect any different."
But Hudson refused to quit. "Baseball's something you've wanted to do all your life," said Hudson. "Then you wonder all winter if it's finally over . . . nobody wants you."
So Hudson drove to Tempe, Arizona. "I call it a 'ground flight,'" he says. "I taxied all the way."
Hudson had no illusions. "I figured you get seven days in Arizona, you see what a big-league camp is like, they say so long and then you go about your business."
But Hudson surprised himself. By reporting to Tempe a week early he became comfortable - a recognized face. He hustled and hit so hard that Seattle didn't have the heart to say no.
When a hot-shot bonus baby got hurt, Hudson started the Mariner season behind the plate. Nobody has been able to remove him.
"Really, I don't know what I'm hitting," says Hudson. "Maybe close to .400." (Actually, it's .362, including eight hits and seven RBIs in three games last week.).
"It's such a good feeling," he says. "It makes you so confident. The first thing Seattle tells you is that they wouldn't bother signing you to a contract unless they thought you were a major-league prospect . . ."
Hudson pauses. Surely, he knows that is an exaggeration.
"The main thing," he says, "is to know within yourself that you had your own experiences. Not too many can say that they played for an organization, that a big-league team paid their salary.
"I can always say, 'I had my shot at the show.'"
To minor leaguers, the majors are always referred to as "the show."
Getting close to that show, touching it, letting it rub off, is a top priority.
The other two ex-Dukes to be reborn as Mariners - reliever Pete Garrity from Georgetown University, and outfielder Elwood Holland from Howard - epitomize that longing to let the magic spell of the majors capture them.
As a Duke, Holland's motto was: "If they invent a position on top of the flag pole, I'll climb up there and play it . . . I'll do anything to prove that I was overlooked. Every time I face a draftee, I want to tie an anchor to him and bury him. I ask myself, 'What do they see in him that they don't see in me?'"
Now, at last, Holland can answer proudly, "Nothing at all."
"I'm just so glad to be here," beams the speedster, who, if he ever learned to bunt and slap hit, might make rapid progress. "In spring training I saw (California's) Bobby Grich one night. I think he was accidentally in the wrong motel. I know he couldn't have wanted to be in ours.
"I told him, 'Mr. Grich, when I finished second in the nation in stolen bases at Howard, I was wearing a pair of your old shoes that (Coach) Chuck Hinton gave me.'
"You know, he seemed real pleased. He said he must have left all his stolen bases in those shoes, 'cause he hadn't stolen many since."
If most bushers are painfully shy, Garrity never has been. "They say all the good relief pitchers are nuts," he says, "so I'm working on my crazy act.
"When they'd call me in at Tempe, I'd say, 'Do we knock this first guy down? Do we, do we? Lemme flip him, please . . . Lets hang his head in the back of the bus.'"
Then Garrity blinks and twitches like a bullpen Quasimodo. And breaks up laughing, revealing the clean-cut Ivy Leaguer look-alike under the facade.
Garrity is all bulldog. When he was cut from Florida tryout camps last season, he spent the long 19-hour drive home to Washington making resolutions.
"I told myself if I ever got another chance, I'd challenge everybody . . . go with the fast ball and hard slider and not beat myself being cute."
A year ago, the Dukes talked bravely just to keep themselves from crying.
The team's best '78 player, Ray Boyer, said, "I've been collecting metal and glass in the outfield. I've got two fenders, one hub cap, a drive shaft and four spark plugs. At the end of the year, I'm going to build a '54 Chevy . . . We got the only outfield where you can dive for a fly ball and get a shave at the same time."
"You know, I played in Fenway Park once in a Cape Cod League All-Star game," mused Boyer. "I didn't want to leave the park. After the last out, I could have knelt down and kissed that grass."
Now in '79, where should Boyer be but in Pittsfield, Mass., playing for the Boston Red Sox Class AA team. Boyer, who was a castoff independent for two seasons, may yet reach Fenway.
"The Red Sox talked to Boyer, Garrity and myself over the winter," says Pellant. "Ray got the shot at AA."
"Last year we were all hanging by our fingernails just to stay in baseball," continues Pellant. "Now we're wondering, 'Can I make the show?'"
For the Dukes, of course, everything must be a long shot, a road of hardship and bad breaks.
"If we'd played with an affiliated team last year, instead of the Dukes," says Hudson, "all four of us would be in AA right now. But because we were independents, we have to prove ourselves all over again in this same league . . . it doesn't matter if we hit .170 or .270 for the Dukes."
Nevertheless, the Duke survivors - and seven of the '78 Alexandrians paid their way to Tempe only to be cut - are finding themselves surrounded with growing respect.
"When we got back from Arizona and had made the club," says Garrity, "the area jerk from the major-league central scouting bureau was at our first game, saying, 'Hey, Pete, how you doing? How's your arm feeling?'
"Last year I could have walked out to the mound with semaphore flags and I couldn't have gotten his attention."
Now, the old Dukes feel that, at long last, their fate may be - to some degree - in their own hands.
"This is the best imaginable shot you could get," says Hudson. "We're with an expansion franchise that believes in a youth movement. And the Mariners don't have a AA club, just two Class A teams - us and San Jose."
Those two factors keep all the alexandria players excited. Some players, either from San Jose or Alexandria, are almost certain to make the big leap from A to AAA ball this season when roster spots open in Spokane. There is nobdy in between to get in their way.
Next season, either San Jose or Alexandria must become a Class AA team - Seattle has until '80 to field a club in every classification. "That means everybody who has a good year is probably going up automatically," says Pellant, hopefully.
"We're all becoming confident that we can move up," says Garrity. "In Arizona, they yelled, 'We need two pitchers for a AAA game.' I was on that bus before they could close the door. I got in to pitch the ninth against Wichita and I 'K'ed (fanned) the first man. Everybody else was yawning and saying, 'Let's get this exhibition game over with,' and I was ready to jump out of my shoes."
The unusually intense motivation of the ex-Dukes is not missed by Mariner brass.
"Everything is different now," says Hudson. "After every game the manager writes up reports on all of us. Last year, nobody saw us at all. We really had no strategy as a team then - everybody played for his own statistics. Now the manager is a teacher, too."
That is the bright side. The dark is that the four old Dukes have been given just enough hope that they may be lured into several unproductive years of chasing a receding dream.
After all, every person in baseball authority knows what a big-leaguer looks like - he is taller than Pellant, throws harder than Garrity, hits better than Hudson and fields better than Holland.
"Baseball measures both talent and personality," says Folyd, who was a utility man on two Baltimore World Series teams. "And to a degree, it measures integrity . . . how you handle yourself and think of yourself.
"If you watch the hierarchy of a wolf pack, you'll notice that the leader always has his ears perked and the tail ender has them down. Ball-players are like that.
"When you are around a real big-leaguer - I think of Frank Robinson - his ears are up and he just bristles."
This March in Arizona, the ex-Dukes gathered around the batting cage, watching Rod Carew of the visiting Angels take batting practice.
"We were shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only," says Garrity. "They cleared us out once and we came right back."
Pellant even noted the model number of Carew's bats - C243. That's what he used to get his niche in the hall of Fame.
It remains to be seen whether that afternoon in Tempe, leaning against the batting cage in uniforms with "Mariners" written across the chest, is as close as Pellant, Hudson, Garrity and Holland get to the major leagues.
Regardless, they have won a formidable personal battle, one they will never forget, nor sell cheap. Others were given their professional uniforms; the ex-Dukes demanded theirs and fought for them.
The four unlikely Mariners will get to have their baseball experiences, even though the game told them that they could not.
For better or worse, they will "get their shot at the show." CAPTION: Picture 1, Dreams of the major leagues continue in Alexandria. infielder Gary Pellant; Picture 2, Carlos Matamoras is safe at second; Picture 3, catcher Chris Hudson; Picture 4, Mariner Manager Bobby Floyd. Photos by Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post