IT TAKES an exceptional hitter to send a baseball over the 14-foot-high fence that borders the Warrior outfield. But they say it can be done. They say that Bob Gibson did it once in an exhibition.
But forget about sending one over the tower behind that fence in right field. That tower stands 50 feet. You'd have as much chance of clearing that tower with a baseball as you'd have of slipping by the armed guards on top of it in broad daylight.
Twelve of those towers ring the Warriors' home, the Lorton Complex of the District of Columbia Department of Corrections.
The warning track is full of joggers in prison denims, not pitchers in pinstripes. And there's the group of onlookers who split their attentions between the pickup basketball game and the early-season practice on the baseball field.
The Warriors' home field is exactly that. Home. There is no 'away.' They'll play every game of their 19-game D.C. Continental League schedule on this field. Road trips come with parole.
Lorton already has a football team, holder of this year's D.C. amateur football crown. So Lorton's sports tradition is established. There was no trouble getting people out for the baseball team this year. The trouble was making cuts. The roster has 17 men.
The role of the Turk fell on the shoulders of two men, Coach Donald Hicks, a recreation specialist, and his assistant Earl Jenkins. Jenkins' job was the tougher one. After They'd decided on their cuts, Hicks got to go home. Jenkins didn't. Jenkins had to go back to the dorm to face the wrath of his fellow prisoners who didn't make the final cut.
The 38-year-old Jenkins is a prisoner himself, serving a 10-to-30-year hitch for armed robbery. He has since been transferred to the minimum-security work-training branch of Lorton.
The tank-like, gravel-voiced Jenkins, at 5-foot-6 and 210 pounds, earned the respect of his players through dedication and sincerity. "In normal society, when practice is over, everyone goes separate ways," he said. "You can't do that here, because a lot of us live together in the same dormitory.
"Guys at Lorton have all kinds of problems." They will talk to me about subjects they might not speak to others about . . . death in the family or conditions here. Don's job will not allow him to go into personal areas."
"Residents involved in sports have the same problems as any athlete in the community," Hicks said. "Earl has a uniqueness about him which allows him to catch a guy during a meal and rap with him. He has the ingenuity to clear up problems that may look superficial to me. If you have a bad game here you live with it for a long while."
There is an added degree of difficulty involved in disciplining a team whose players have been found guilty of crimes ranging from manslaughter to murder. Fights do not often erupt on field. When conflicts arise at Lorton, serious injury is usually the result. But arguments generally are caused by a lack of an outlet through which to funnel tensions, and sports allow residents to express themselves.
"When I first got involved with the baseball team two years ago, I told the players that they were coming out with the understanding that I was one of the coaches," said Jenkins, who hopes to be paroled by 1981. "I told them that they'd better listen to me, whether or not I'm an inmate."
Prisoners learned to sacrifice parts of their individuality for the good of the team.
"Look, none of us likes being told what to do," Jenkins said. "We don't want to hear that damned stuff from someone in authority.
"But we are part of the system wether we like it or not. Certain jobs make you do things you might not want to, like politicians kissing babies. Besides, prisoners see a need to come together because of the suffering that comes with incarceration and the only way to survive here is through unity."
"Last year, when we began the football season, we had the nucleus of a championship team. We had to get these guys thinking as one, and we did.
Otis B. Peterson, a cornerback on that team, trying to stay in shape in the spring, came up to Jenkins during baseball practice and listed all of the calisthenics he'd completed. When Peterson arrived at Lorton five years ago, he was full of hate, Jenkins said. Now he is trying his best to keep away from trouble.
"If you are going to be a winner you can't quit," said Peterson, of southeast Washington, whose first chance for parole comes in 2001. "Being here bothers me, but I try not to let it get me down. Early has been like a father to me. He's helped me grow and taught me to not get caught up in negative stuff."
How did a man with Jenkins' compassion -- he is born again -- wind up at Lorton? "I was incarcerated for truancy when I was 14, but no one asked what my motives were for missing school," said the candid and articulate 38-year-old.
Since his first offense, the assistant coach has spent 13 years of his life locked up, although he professes innocence to his last armed robbery conviction. He admits, though, that in 1969 he did try to hold up a jewelry store.
"I regret what I've done in the past because I felt like it was part of survival. But now that I've been saved, I couldn't go back down that road again," he says with certainty.
Jenkins said he has had an opportunity to discover a part of himself in each of his charges -- hostility and selfishness as well as kindness. "You see something ugly in a person and can remember when you were like that, too.
"Anybody can end up in here. People say we should be locked up and in some cases they be right. But we come out sooner or later and we need direction. I don't have anything to give these guys except myself."
Although he enjoyed acting as a coach-brother to the players on his football and baseball teams, Jenkins does not plan to work in a prison when he is released. He has had his fill of penitentiaries and he hopes, with the culinary courses he completed, to hook on somewhere as a cook.
He tries not to think about what it will feel like to be let go.
"Let me tell you," Jenkins said. "One of the worst things that can happen to a man is a dream about his freedom and wake up in a prison cell."