Jim Buckmeir came within two outs of pitching a no-hitter last night, making the Dukes' farewell to Alexandria memorable with a 4-1 defeat of the Salem Redbirds at Four Mile Run Park.
The Dukes, after striking out this summer with the city, will move to Woodbridge next season and in mid-April will be reborn as the Prince William Pirates. Home will be Dale City's new $1 million stadium--a long way from the modest playing field in the rear of an elementary school on the Arlington edge of Alexandria.
Buckmeir (10-6) had given up a run without allowing a hit in the eighth. He retired Keith Jones on a grounder to lead off the ninth and then walked Duck Freeman. On a full count, Barry Brunenkant hit a sharp liner to center field that dropped just in front of Tomas Martinez.
After he hit John Westmoreland with a pitch, Buckmeir was replaced by Johnny Taylor and received a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,815.
"After the fifth, I was aware of it (the no-hitter) and the last couple of innings I thought I could do it," said Buckmeir. "But these things happen. I was getting tired and I was pressing myself a little too much.
"I was really surprised that the crowd was this big. When I came here all I was worried about was getting my 10th win and lowering my ERA, but when I saw the crowd, it pumped me up more."
Buckmeir struck out 11, picked a runner off first base, and walked four.
The Dukes scored two in the top of the first on Jim Opie's two-run homer. They added a run in the fourth on a RBI single by Brian Burrows that scored Larry Johnson. They made it 4-0 in the fifth when pitcher Mark Poston (10-9) mishandled Martinez's ground ball, allowing Lorenzo Bundy to score.
There were those at the game who felt Alexandria had mishandled the negotiations with the Dukes.
"I can tell people now that I was here for the first game and the last game and a lot of games in between," said Bill Marsh, a 40-year-old Springfield man who coaches T.C. Williams' high school baseball team.
"I think it's a crying shame that the city and the Dukes and everyone concerned turned this all into a political football," he said.
Almost an hour before the game, cars began pulling into the dusty parking lot across the street from the field.
The team had proclaimed this Fans Appreciation Game and reduced all ticket prices to $1.50, further encouraging a full house for a tearful goodbye. City Councilman Donald Casey emerged from the crowd, solemn and regretful.
Casey had been one of the team's loudest supporters during efforts to persuade the city to spend about $1 million in improvements to a city park for the Dukes. In July, those efforts broke down and the Dukes' chairman of the board, Joseph Berardelli, announced that the team would have to leave the city. "I don't like losing," said Casey. "But I did everything I could. I'm sorry to see them go and I think it's a loss to all of Alexandria. I wish them luck."
A silence fell over tiny Four Mile Run park as Dukes' infielder Tomas Martinez, a native of the Dominican Republic who is learning English, led the crowd in the Star Spangled Banner--in English.
And before the game Bundy was awarded a plaque naming him the fans' favorite player. Bat boy Chuck Meadows, 14, was given a jersey.
Silver-haired E.J. Wolff, the team's longtime security officer and chief of the grounds crew, picked up one of the gold and black jerseys of the team's road uniforms for his services.
"I really don't think the guys are going to be upset when we leave Alexandria," said pitcher Buckmier before his outstanding game. "In the minor leagues all you want to do is to move up and out of a place.
"There are some people, the fans and those who have helped us, we will miss, but other than that, it's just another stop on the way to the major leagues."