Fails to Live Up to Form, Falls 15-0 in 2012 Home Opener
Md.—They were there in record numbers, ready to embrace this year’s
version of the Bethesda Big Train. But the overflow crowd that was on
hand Friday night for the Big Train’s home opener came largely to
bask in the afterglow of their team’s stunning success of 2011.
scripted T-shirts that most in attendance wore said it all: 2011
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS / Bethesda Big Train.
Perfect Game on hand to join in on the festive occasion and formally
recognize the Big Train as the nation’s No. 1 summer-college league
team, the mood in and around intimate Shirley Povich Field was
decidedly upbeat in pre-game ceremonies that acknowledged the team’s
amazing accomplishment of a year ago, when it went 36-9 overall,
handily won the Cal Ripken League regular-season and post-season
championships, and finished No. 1 in the country as every contender
in its path bit the dust in post-season play.
the franchise-record crowd of 1,328 didn’t expect to see, though,
was a 15-0 thrashing the defending national champions absorbed at the
hands of the Rockville Express. Not only was the one-sided setback
entirely unexpected, given the team’s recent success, but it was
one of the worst losses in the Big Train’s decorated 14-year
history, and their third straight to open the 2012 season.
never seen anything this embarrassing, and we’ve got more than
1,300 here to see it,” mumbled Bruce Adams, one of the team’s
the anticipated return of several key members of last year’s
championship team, most of those players had yet to rejoin the Big
Train this season and the lineup it fielded for its home opener
wasn’t a reasonable facsimile of the team that it will field once
the reinforcements are all in place. It certainly didn’t look like
the team that won with machine-like precision a year ago.
still missing a lot of our key players, for any number of reasons,”
lamented Big Train field manager Sal Colangelo. “We’ve had to
improvise with the ones that are here, playing a lot of them out of
position, even using pitchers in the outfield. It’s a very
patchwork team, but we’ll be okay once everyone arrives.”
those slated to return to the Big Train lineup in the new few days
are catcher/righthander Hunter Renfroe (Mississippi State), the
top-ranked prospect in the Cal Ripken League a year ago and a
potential first-rounder in 2013; and third baseman Adam Barry, the
reigning league MVP who set numerous league records a year ago,
including for highest single-season batting average (.414) and RBIs
(43). A Cal State Northridge product with his college degree already
in hand, Barry was hoping to be drafted last week as a fourth-year
junior, but wasn’t and has since consented to return to Bethesda.
year’s staff ace, righthander Matt Bowman (Princeton), was actually
in the house Friday night, but was there in street clothes as he
stopped by only to share in the team’s celebration and offer a few
good-byes as he was on his way that night to sign a contract with the
New York Mets.
was among eight former Big Train players selected in last week’s
draft, chief among them righthanders Martin Agosta (St.
Mary’s/Calif.) and Tucker Donahue (Stetson), selected in the second
and fourth rounds. Bowman was a 13th-rounder. All
pitchers, they anchored a dominant Big Train pitching staff a year
ago that posted a collective 2.40 ERA. Unfortunately, none was
available to pitch for the Big Train on Friday night as Rockville
banged out 19 hits in its one-sided triumph.
pretty much got everyone coming back this year that is eligible to
come back,” said Colangelo, an athletic director at a local high
school who has been with the team since its inception in 1999, the
last eight as the team’s field manager. “With all the success
we’ve had here and the way we treat our players, we have players
wanting to return for a second year, and even a third, instead of
looking elsewhere to play. In terms of facility, the housing for
players, the way our fans embrace the team, the way we do everything
in a first-class manner, we provide as good a summer-league
experience as any team in the country.
I said a year ago, we felt our team, especially with the depth we had
on our pitching staff, was good enough to compete with any team in
summer baseball, even those in the upper echelon of the Cape Cod
League, and I still believe that. Once we get everyone back this
year, I think this team will have a chance to be as good as last
was hard to tell that, based on a one-game snapshot Friday, but a
trip to Bethesda was all about what the Big Train accomplished in
2011 and before, not what it hasn’t accomplished to date this year.
the Bethesda Big Train and the cozy, immaculate facility the team
plays in, Shirley Povich Field, are a direct reflection of the rich
baseball history in the area, stemming back to the heyday of the old
park is named after the prolific and beloved former sports editor of
the Washington Post, who covered baseball—his true passion—from
the days of Walter Johnson to Cal Ripken in a career than spanned
some 75 years. Povich covered the lone World Series ever won by the
Senators, in 1924, and wrote his final column for the Post the day
before he died in June of 1998, at age 92.
team’s nickname, the Big Train, is a take off on Johnson’s
nickname from his playing days with the Senators. Johnson won 417
games (second-most in history behind Cy Young) in a 21-year
big-league career that spanned from 1907-27, all spent with the
Senators, and lived all the while in Bethesda, near the same high
school that bears his name. After Johnson’s playing career ended,
he continued to reside in Bethesda for years and even served as an
elected member of the Board of Commissioners of Montgomery County.
there are large tributes to both Povich and Johnson in the stadium
inspiration to build a new ball park in Bethesda that would capture
the essence of what Povich and Johnson meant to the area at a time
when big-league baseball had been gone from Washington for more than
25 years, came from Adams, who has been active in Montgomery
County politics himself for a number of years and had an indirect
link to both Povich and Johnson.
became the driving force in the late 1990s behind both the
construction of Shirley Povich Field and formation of the Big Train.
Along with his partner, John Ourisman, Adams spearheaded the
organization’s initial fund-raising efforts and remains with the
team to this day in his capacity as team president.
son Hugh, a righthander at Florida Atlantic University who
red-shirted this spring with a back injury, has also been an integral
part of the Big Train as he made his first pitching appearance for
the team at age 16 and has pitched on and off for the Big Train for
the last seven seasons.
a member of the long-standing but since-disbanded Clark Griffith
League, the Big Train bolted for the more-progressive Cal Ripken
League when that league was founded in 2005, and has since become the
league’s flagship franchise after winning the last three league
championships. The team has never had a losing record in 13 years,
though it came close with a .500 mark in 2001, the same year the
previous attendance high of 1,326 was achieved. That mark was set in
response to a major feature article on the team in the local
a loosely-defined community of some 60,000 located immediately to the
northwest of Washington, D.C., is one of the most-affluent and
highly-educated areas in the country. It once placed first in Forbes’
list of America's most-educated small towns, and first on
list of top-earning American towns.
such affluence at their disposal, Adams and Ourisman set out to tap
into their share. They sought donations in all shapes and sizes, from
donors both large and small. In all, their fund-raising efforts
netted upwards of $1.5 million in real dollars, and they generated as
much, if not more, in donated labor and materials from local
construction companies to facilitate the construction of a charming,
800-seat facility for the fledgling Big Train that has served as
their home field for the last 14 years and is also the spring-time
home for Georgetown University’s baseball team.
those who contributed $500 to the cause and has his name etched on
one of the donor bricks on the wall at the front of the stadium is
Mike McCurry, the one-time press secretary of former president Bill
Clinton and an avowed baseball fan.
vision for a new ball park came from his passion for traveling
extensively around the country in the mid-90s to see baseball
facilities of all kinds, mostly at the major- and minor-league
levels, and then writing about his experiences, with the assistance
of his wife Peggy, a metro writer at the Washington Post at the time.
Their work would appear frequently in the Post’s travel section,
and even led to a book the two co-authored, Fodor’s Baseball
Vacations, a travel guide for baseball vacations.
the unique features of Shirley Povich Field were a collaboration of
ideas taken from Baltimore’s Camden Yards, to Cooperstown’s
Doubleday Field, to various minor-league parks around the country,
notably those in nearby Bowie and Frederick.
Adams met the esteemed Povich only once and never did meet Johnson,
who died in 1946, he made it a point to honor both Washington
baseball legends. As he was raising funds to fulfill his dream of
building a ball park in Bethesda, he sought out a connection to
Povich and crossed paths with the recently-deceased Hall of Fame
writer in a way that inadvertently led to the stadium being named in
the behest of a Washington Post colleague of his wife’s that knew
Shirley Povich well, it was suggested that Adams attempt to reach out
to Maury Povich, a nationally-known talk show host and the son of
Shirley, to assist in providing funds for a new stadium. Adams
subsequently arranged a meeting with the younger Povich, and
indicated that he was looking for a donation in the order of
$100,000. Povich not only balked at that amount, but initially
chastised Adams for having the nerve to ask for a handout of that
soon realized, however, that there might be something tangible to be
gained by accommodating Adams, and rallied to the cause. He quickly
coughed up a personal check in the amount of $25,000, and helped the
persistent Adams raise the amount he originally sought by committing
two of his associates to ante up $25,000 apiece. He then suggested
that Adams tap into the remaining $25,000 by approaching the
colleague of Povich’s late father that had recommended him as a
potential donor in the first place. It worked, and the $100,000 was
raised. For his part, Povich suggested to Adams that the new field be
named in honor of his late father, and Adams was more than receptive
to the idea.
Shirley Povich never saw the facility that was named in his honor as
he died a year before the first Big Train game was ever played there.
link to Johnson had more of a personal connection as he recalls his
father telling him how Johnson, when he was pitching for the
Senators, would pick him up every day for three years, take him to
Senators games with him and even allow him to sit in the team’s
dugout. That act of kindness left a lasting impression on Adams, and
the Big Train became an appropriate nickname for his new
caught up was Adams last summer at his team’s chances of winning a
mythical national title that he would track the progress of every one
of Bethesda’s chief contenders for a No. 1 ranking on a nightly
basis for several weeks, before and after the Big Train finished its
season in early August. The Big Train was ranked No. 3 nationally at
Adams realized, heading into the final night of the 2011 summer
season, that all that stood between his team, which had moved to No.
2 by then, and a top ranking was the fate of the No. 1-ranked team,
the Edenton Steamers of the Coastal Plain League, he drove down to
remote Edenton on the North Carolina coast to watch for himself as
the Steamers, with a No. 1 ranking all but sewed up, inexplicably
lost twice on the final night of the CPL playoffs to relinquish the
top spot to Bethesda.
made myself pretty obscure there, outside of the Bethesda sweater
that I was wearing,” Adams said. “But I wanted to see for myself
just how good this Edenton team was, and whether they might be a more
deserving champion than we were in the event they won. As it turns
out, they lost, and I knew then that we would become the No. 1 team.
It was a pretty exciting night.”
No. 1 national ranking among the nation’s top summer-league clubs
was the farthest thing from Adams’ mind when he conceived of the
idea of a team coming to suburban Washington, D.C., more than 15
years ago. His motivation at the time was more about community and
the positive impact a team would have on the area, more than it ever
was about wins and losses.
summer-league teams in various parts of the country, most prominently
those in the Northwoods and Coastal Plains leagues, teams in the Cal
Ripken League, which expanded this year from nine to 10 teams,
operate as non-profit entities. The Big Train is
owned and operated by The Bethesda Community Base Ball Club, Inc.,
and is funded through merchandise sales, donations, and other
fund-raising efforts at games.
BBC was formed in 1998 by Adams with an overriding goal to raise
funds to improve the quality of youth baseball and softball fields in
Montgomery County and the District of Columbia. Proceeds from the
operation of the Big Train have been used to further this mission and
the club has helped to raise more than $600,000 through the years in
support of the cause.
had a dream,” Adams recalls. “We would strengthen our sense of
community in the Bethesda area by building a community ball park and
fielding a team of college stars to join a wooden-bat summer college
baseball. If enough people came out to the games, and we did well
financially, we would improve youth baseball and softball fields in
Montgomery County and the District.”
only has the Big Train met and exceeded those expectations in its 14
years of existence, but it has thrived on a national level against
the backdrop of competing in a major metropolitan area.
the most part, summer baseball has succeeded through the years mainly
in small, rural communities where it is the only game in town. In
suburban Washington, D.C., the Big Train has plenty of competition
for the entertainment dollar, notably the ominous presence of the
Washington Nationals in the last few years.
knew that summer college baseball was seldom a box-office success in
busy suburban and urban areas with lots of entertainment choices,”
Adams said. “We’ve tried to create here what successful teams in
other leagues have—a small-town feel. And it has worked out pretty