Bumps Vaughan loves the baseball, always has, always will, beginning as a kid in Bladensburg and running to today when the feisty old coach, 57 going on 35, watched his Bowie High School team win its 52nd straight game with a 23-6 shellacking of Suitland.
Straight out the winter rainy season, summer came to town today with a baseball sun and the boing-boing of aluminum bats reverberating as mighty Bowie High clanged 26 hits all over the dusty lot in front of parents, girl friends and guys from tennis practice who stopped by to see the Yankees of Prince George's County move a step closer to a national record.
As beautiful as baseball gets at the highest levels, it's almost as pretty on a minefield of dust and crabgrass that makes every ground ball an adventure. The joy once thought eternal--the crack of ash against a baseball--is gone most places now, but other high school sounds live: the ball slapping into leather, the umpire calling "stee-rrrrk," the giggly girls giggling.
At game time today, six teen-age girls sat on wooden bleachers behind a rusting chain-link backstop. One carried a book: "How to Take the SAT." Another, wearing her cheerleader outfit, had written on her notebook, "I Hate Chemistry." Another punched her buddy and said, "Scoot over, you're in my sun."
"Heather," a redhead shouted out in the third inning. She wanted the Bowie bat girl to tell the center fielder she'd be right back. "And, Heather, I'm not using his car. Okay."
They pay Bumps Vaughan $970 a season to coach baseball, which may come to a half-dollar an hour, and he has to bum equipment from the local American Legion post to run his junior varsity team. He likes it anyway. He likes it because he works with good kids. They go away, because that's what school is for, and they come back to say thanks, which is nice, too.
One of his old players is a captain in the Army teaching at the U.S. Military Academy. He came by with his small child. The coach gets letters from his guys, too, and you can't buy those kind of letters for $970. Maybe 40 of his guys in the 16 years of Bowie High--"I opened the doors here, maybe even laid the bricks"--have played college ball.
Some things change. "Twenty years ago, the kids were more dedicated as a group. We still have individuals, but not the whole group. They have automobiles and girls and jobs. Extra money means more to them than the extra time on the ball field."
But when you've always wanted to be a coach because helping kids grow up sounded like a decent thing to do, you don't fuss about the little stuff. You teach the fundamentals of the game you love to the kids who want to learn them. You run bunt plays and cutoffs and rundowns. You watch them play as children for the Bowie Boys Club, you coach them on the summer's American Legion team (going to the Legion World Series twice) and you help them, each spring, keep on winning for Bowie High.
The all-time high school record is 68 straight victories, Vaughan thinks, and maybe Bowie will get to that next season. The Bulldogs were 22-0 each of the last two years and are 8-0 now. They won the last two Maryland state tournaments. Two seasons ago Bowie was named the nation's No. 1 team. Vaughan was the national coach of the year in '82.
To say these are the P.G. Yankees is a compliment, though the losing Suitland coach today uttered a disparaging comment to an umpire whose vision gave Bowie a break: "Don't worry about it, ump. It's only a game, right? And they're Bowie."
These grapes were sour, because Bowie needed no help to ravage Suitland. Bowie's fireplug catcher Wayne Culley, the team's leading hitter at .552, sailed a home run over a 10-foot high fence 340 feet away. So did third baseman Mark Freeman. Davey Vaughan, Bowie's ace pitcher (no relation to the coach), now is hitting .400 after a four-for four day.
Afterward, Coach Vaughan sat his players in the dugout behind the Bowie gymnasium. "We got a big game Saturday with Laurel, gentlemen. So I want a good practice tomorrow afternoon. Everybody be here. Anybody not here won't play Saturday."
Vaughan's assistant coach, Bill Seibert, chimed in, "Anybody not in school can't practice."
"Big game," Vaughan said again, as if anyone in the dugout needed reminding of what the coach had said in his office earlier. "They're all the seventh game of the World Series now. Everybody's shooting at us. Like Laurel coming up."
A visitor asked, "Will Laurel save its best pitcher to use against you?"
Vaughan laughed out. "Sure. If your wife was going to see Ronald Reagan, would she buy a new dress? It's like I told the kids. We won't be seeing any skebeenies."
Davey Vaughan, a left-hander who was 11-0 last season and now is 4-0, will face Laurel on Saturday and come back Wednesday against arch-rival Roosevelt, also undefeated.
"The streak helps the other team because it gives them incentive," Coach Vaughan said. "But it helps us, too, because our kids are aware of it. It pushes them. There's just as much pressure in being county champions (eight times since '71). We all know it has to end one of these days, and we just want the kids to accept it in a classy fashion."
The coach smiled.
"And then start another one."