After 17 years of coaching high school baseball, William (Bumps) Vaughn is getting a little gray around the temples. But the hair on top of his head is still jet black, mostly, Vaughn says, because he has nothing to worry about.
His defending state champion Bowie High Bulldogs have won 38 in a row, including 16 this year. A victory against Eleanor Roosevelt Saturday would clinch Bowie's eighth league title.
But this year isn't special for Bowie--every year is. Since 1966, the Bulldogs have averaged about 16 victories a year. Vaughn, 55, says he can't remember exactly how many, and he's never bothered to keep track.
"We just play, and when it's over we forget about it," he said. "I can't bring it back, so I don't try to remember. And who knows? We could go 0-20 next year."
Vaughan's Cheverly American Legion team, made up mostly of Bowie players, also has averaged better than 20 victories a year since the mid-1950s. The legion club has won 14 league titles and advanced to the national World Series twice.
This year's Bowie High School team has relied on solid pitching. Senior Brent Friehauf (7-0, 0.53 ERA) has pitched 22 consecutive scoreless innings, including a perfect game and no-hitter back to back. His statistics include 80 strikeouts and nine walks, five complete games and a .435 batting average.
His backup, junior Dave Vaughan, has won nine games and has an ERA of 0.51. Bowie's leading hitter is senior Swen Thompson, who is hitting .512.
This year's streak, like the entire Bowie program, is a matter of family pride. Catcher Chris Sullivan's brother Sean played on last year's team and is now the starting rightfielder for 10th-ranked Virginia Tech. Friehauf's brother Shane was Bowie's star pitcher three years ago. He is now at Wyoming.
The family that has contributed most to Bowie's success the last 15 years is the Terrell family. Terry, Brett and David Terrell starred in the early '70s, and brothers Jim and K.C. are now playing for the Bowie junior varsity.
"You play together from the time you're 10 years old, and it just gets in your system," said Chris Adomanis, who was graduated from Bowie in 1978. Adomanis was 9-1 as a junior; the team was 17-4. He went 12-0 his senior year, when he pitched the Bulldogs (19-2) to the finals of the state playoffs. He is graduating from American this spring after going 10-10 the last two years for the Eagles and being named the AU male athlete of the year.
"It's a winning tradition, and you just never learn how to lose," he said.
"We have players who worry about baseball all year long," said Chris Sullivan. "Like Dave (Vaughan) and I came out three or four weeks before the start of practice this year and hit grounders to each other, threw and took batting practice. And we don't stop playing until December. There's only so many warm days in a year."
Not everyone agrees with the philosophy Vaughn has instilled at Bowie. But they can not argue with the final product.
"As long as I can remember, they've been the team everybody's been in awe of," said Coach Mike Cavalini, whose Friendly team nearly beat the Bulldogs last week. The Patriots are now in third place, behind Eleanor Roosevelt. "We weren't always in their league playing against them. And the whole time all I ever heard was Bowie, Bowie, Bowie.
"But when we started playing them, I found out their kids were human. They made errors. They struck out. They missed the cutoff man. They're not a machine. I always heard they were, but they're not."
Still, Cavalini has had as hard a time as anyone beating Vaughn. "I don't know if he (Vaughn) and I are any different. He might be a little luckier than me. But just their reputation--the fact that they're Bowie and you're not--is enough to hurt the majority of teams and make them all nervous."
This year's team, while not the powerhouse of last season, has done its part to maintain the tradition.
"I think we're as good as our record," Brent Friehauf said. "We haven't dominated teams this year like last year, but we've gotten the hits and runs when we needed him. This is still a Bowie team."
It's a Bowie team mostly because of Vaughn. More than anything else, he looks like a coach. Hands jammed deep in his back pockets, eyes squinting in studied concentration at the opposition's pitcher, he might have stepped out of a Ring Lardner story.
His former players say he's not a master baseball strategist. He just gets the most out of his players by preaching fundamentals.
"A lot of people say things that give you the idea Bumps is some kind of messiah. He's not," Adomanis said. "I don't think he (Vaughn) could take a ragtag collection of nothing players and make a winner out of them right away, like a lot of people think. He's always had a lot of talent to work with.
"But he gets the credit mostly for just molding us into a cohesive unit. That was his strong point."
"It just seems to pass from generation to generation," Adomanis said. "It's something you can tell your grandkids about. Come to think of it, they'll probably play for Bowie. And Bumps will probably still be coaching."