Rick Hold spat a mouthful of tobacco juice on the aluminum grandstand. $1It was not the most dignified thing for the general manager of a professional baseball team to do.
But this one seat -- now inits unsittable condition -- could serve as Holt's spittoon. There were 769 other empty seats among a crowd of 1,247 last night in Four Mile Run Park, home of the Alexandria Dukes, Carolina League, Class A.
"We have had all three of our telephone lines tied up this week," said Holt, hwo would later serve as half of the ticket booth's salesmen for this game betwen the Dukes and the Hagerstown Suns, won by Alexandria, 3-1. "These people wanted to know three things: One, how to get to the park. Two, how much our tickets cost and three, do we sell beer."
Holt said between 550 and 600 people phoned the Dukes' office this week, about twice as many as usual. Whether the major league strike had an effect was a difficult question -- this was the Dukes' first home game since the big leagues struck.
"I think with the added media attention we've been getting," Holt said, "added with the fact that we are affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates has given us some credibility now."
Holt leaned forward, the pinch of tobacco locked firmly between his teeth and gum, and said, "I'll tell you, it's kind of exhilarating seeing the team on the 11 o'clock news."
The Dukes could use some exhilaration this year. The team lost $90,000 last year while working as a cooperative sponsored by seven major league teams, who supplied players and some of the money for those players' contracts. The Dukes lost money before that, too, when they were sponsored by Seattle (1979) and when they were unaffiliated. They are now in the first year of a three-year contract with the Pirates.
At Four Mile Run Stadium you will find those elements you would expect to find at a minor league game. There are advertisements, 35 of them, plastered on the outfield wall. Firms like Virginia Concrete and Potomac Valley Brick get a quick promotion on every fly out and home run.
Foldover chairs -- the kind you might see at a lawn party -- serve as box seats. The are rusted and wet, but they are close to the field.
The players may not be of free agent quality, but they are performing professional ball players and in these days, that makes them a rarity.
"It's tough to move up from here," said Mike Toomey, Duke manager, who saw third baseman Mike Quade and pitcher Crucito Carvajal move up to the Pirates' AA team in Buffalo in the Eastern League this week. "It's a lonely life. You're on the road a lot. But we have got a good group of guys, a great chemistry. We have got a couple of brothers, five or six Latin payers, all talented players. A lot of the guys stick together and watch soap operas and stuff like that on the road.
"Yeah, everyone watches 'General Hospital.'"
First baseman John Schaive is 23, a bit old for A ball. He admits that the Dukes' game program, which lists him as 22, is wrong.
"I have nothing against Alexandria, but I would like to move up. At 23 you have to start making a decision on your life," Schaive said. "I'm not going to play in A ball all of my life."
Perhaps the one man who had this whole setting clearly and concisely defined was Richard Robinson, a fan. Robinson is 78 years old and last year paid $103 to buy a season ticket to the 70 Dukes home games. This year he has moved to Annandale and has been to only about five games.
"When you go to see the big leagues, you expect perfection. Here you only expect effort and these kids give it. I don't think the guys in the big leagues always give it their all."
And what about the strike affecting the Dukes?
"The strike won't affect this ball club one bit. We (Washington) don't have a ball club. Baltimore is too far away," said Robinson.
"No, this is the best baseball around."