July 4? America? It has to be baseball, right? Or softball? Or both.

Craig Little, executive vice president of the Rockville Baseball Association, was welcoming a bleary-eyed crowd of parents and siblings, many of whom had been dragged along, to Dogwood Park in Rockville. The time was 9:45 a.m. The occasion was the second annual July Fourth Baseball Tournament.

The two-day event involves competition at four age levels between all-star teams from the RBBA and the Gaithersburg Sports Association. Friday, the Senior Division teams (16- and 17-year-olds) and the Junior teams (14-15) played. Late yesterday afternoon, the Midget teams (12-13) played. However, the main event was yesterday morning. That's when the Pee Wees went at it.

Nine, 10 and 11 years old, the players wore (remember, this was an all-star game) varying color socks that left varying amounts of flesh exposed and tennis shoes, soccer shoes, basketball shoes and, yes, baseball shoes (in both black and white, of course).

Moms and teen-age girls marveled at how cute the boys looked. Teen-age boys winced, embarrassed at the thought. Dads urged on their sons. Little boys and girls slept, cried, got dirty, ran around and got dirty.

Meantime, Little, giving it his best buildup, introduced Rockville Mayor Steven Van Grack.

Van Grack, after accepting an RBBA jacket on which "Steve" had been embroidered, spoke mainly to the players, who were busy ignoring their coaches' advice by taking pregame gulps of water (tempting cramps, you know) from cups that had been wedged backwards into the holes of the chain-link fences behind the benches.

"Somewhere among you," Van Grack said, "there may be some truly great players. There may be some major leaguers. There may be an all-star. There may be an MVP. There may be a Cy Young award winner. There may even be a Hall of Famer. And maybe, just maybe, there may be a candy bar named after one of you."

The parents laughed. The kids were too young to get the joke. And besides, there was a game to be played here.

Rockville catcher Dan Weaver, 9, after saying that catching the first ball from Van Grack was "not that exciting," said playing America's game on America's day was no big deal.

"We usually play on Saturdays," Weaver said. "And since we usually play at night we don't have to get up at 8:30."

Gaithersburg catcher Brian Christin, 11, had a different perspective.

"It's not the date; it's the game. It's an honor to play in an all-star game like this," he said as some of his teammates sidled over to heckle. "It means pretty much. They only have this game once every year and it's nice to play against some other kids. In the regular season we play the same teams over and over."

"It's really great the way the parents support the kids," said Lou Cornet, one of Rockville's coaches. "It being a holiday and everything, it's great that they come down here early in the morning and watch their kids."

Same thing applies when it comes to adult softball. Only in reverse.

"You've got to root for your daddy when he comes up," Gladys Pettit explained to 3-year-old Emily Proffitt. "If they lose, we've got to stay for another game."

"They" was Pizza Box, "daddy" Doug Proffitt's team in the City of Alexandria Fourth of July slow-pitch softball tournament, which was played Friday and yesterday at Hensley Park in Alexandria.

Coached by Gladys' husband, Charlie Pettit, Pizza Box had gone undefeated in its first five games of the four-team round-robin event. A win over Drummer's, whose only loss had come to Pizza Box, would give Pizza Box the tournament championship, a team trophy and two dozen softballs. The competition in the last of the seventh inning was intense.

Pizza Box, behind by three runs, built a rally. One run in. Cheers. Two runs in. Second baseman Jimmy Pittrizzi jumps off the bench and deals high fives with one hand while holding his 3-year-old son Casey with the other. Three runs in. Gladys Pettit gets fired up. "Come on Box!"

The rally dies and Drummer's wins by one run in extra innings.

"You wanna quit and call it co-champs or play?" asked Drummer's player/coach Roland Drum, a Falls Church dentist.

"Play!" Charlie Pettit fired back.

John Mead, the tournament's director, retreated to the top of a hill overlooking the field.

"Originally we had six teams for the tournament," Mead said. "But one had to drop out because of a time conflict and one had to drop out because of lack of interest. There's a lot of wife and girlfriend pressure on holiday weekends. It {the pressure} is just tremendous."

John Cabral, of Alexandria, who was playing with Drummer's this weekend, met his wife at a softball game in 1985 and married her last October on a softball field.

"The way I look at it is this," Cabral said. "You've got to do something on the Fourth of July. Now the family comes first, but you're into softball and you're gonna be around, why not? It's sort of the American thing to do, isn't it?"