Still Waiting After All These Years
By Matt Bond (January 19, 2002)
In my freshman year at George Mason, I played baseball on a scraggly, uneven baseball field. Before and after each game, the players groomed the field in the vain hope of making the surface infield a little smoother and more playable. The batting cages, such as they were, provided some place to practice my swing, and the pitching machine, worn and inaccurate, was used sometimes. All this seemed bearable, however, because the fields at GM were to undergo a major transformation at the end of the spring sports season. We had all seen and heard about the exciting plans for new fields, a new track, and a concession stand. The only jarring note was the continuing reluctance of the city to approve funding for lights.
My sophomore season, we had no field. The high hopes carried forward from freshman spring were dashed by delays. Some said it was the contract bidding process, some said it was the rising cost, and some just said it was mismanagement. We practiced in the gym, fielding ricocheting baseballs, and sliding across the gym floor. Even now I can hear the sound of flesh squeaking as each player stubbornly slid to a spot designated as a base. Eventually the school rented a field for practices but too much time was lost getting there and back, to say nothing of the fact that we could only use it a couple of days a week. No home field advantage was to be had; every game was played away. Those long bus rides and late night returns were doubled. The team was dispirited and our batting averages were abysmal.
Summer passed and fall brought a new school year. As work on the fields moved forward, concern among players and parents grew at the slope of the field and the positioning of home plate. The downward slope of the field toward the warning track, the area at the edge of the field that the pitchers use for post-game runs, was and is dramatic. For a short outfielder, home plate can be hard to glimpse if the pitcher’s mound intersects one’s line of sight. The proximity of home plate and the backstop to the Route 66 access road left everyone wondering what would happen with the start of play. Lights continued to be a topic of discussion but no support from the city government appeared forthcoming. Despite all of this, the excitement of having a vastly improved field was contagious. A few grumbles were to be heard but the prospect of playing on the new field and a tantalizing spring training trip to Florida dominated our thoughts.
All too soon, we received the harsh awakening. At the very first game of the season, foul balls rained out onto the access road. To make things worse, sixth and seventh graders ran out onto the road, dodging traffic to retrieve the balls. A group of parents had to physically bar their way to get them to stop. After two or three games with similar results, the field was closed, temporarily they said. The school pondered a solution; we played away again, and the varsity went to Florida. Upon our return from a hardworking, baseball filled week, we found nothing had been done. Eventually the field reopened with some additional netting but it proved ineffective and the field was closed once again.
That was last April. It is now December and the Falls Church City Council has just appropriated the additional funds necessary to "fix" the backstop. Parents are agitated. The local newspaper is printing reports of concern on the part of city officials as to whether the necessary renovations can be completed in time for the start of the season. On top of all that, the engineering solution currently proposed calls for 100-foot poles to hold the new netting. These poles could double as light poles but nothing so fortuitous will be recognized and utilized.
Once again, baseball at GM depends on the city’s persistence and alacrity in resolving field problems. I hope they are able to complete their task in time…it is my last year after all.