City Desk

After the Boys of Summer Have Gone: The Clark Griffith League Has Disappeared!

"Darn you, Cal Ripken!"

How often do you get to say that? I'm saying it a lot lately.

To wit: For the current print edition of Washington City Paper, which, coincidentally or not, is made of the very same material as the $100 bill, while the internet version is made of nothingness, I wrote about the disappearance of the Clark Griffith League. Pick up a copy, read the column, patronize the advertisers, SOS...

I'm crushed by the league's sorry state. Clark Griffith League baseball was a seasonal institution around here my whole life, and a local version of the Cape Cod League, where the players were of college age and the bats were wood. A Clark Griffith League legend and the purest baseball man I ever met, Harry "Jake" Jacobs, lived near my boyhood home in Falls Church, and I've been going to a games for decades — though never as many as I told myself I will at the beginning of each summer. The talent level was always awesome — hundreds of pro ballplayers with some D.C. roots, including Yankees superstar Mark Teixiera and Boston reliever Jon Papelbon and Nats manager Jim Riggleman toiled in the federation before anybody knew who they were.

And, even better than the skills, the games of the Clark Griffith League always reeked of old school baseball. The Vienna Senators, a flagship Clark Griffith League franchise that played at Waters Field, a baseball megacomplex in Northern Virginia, always offered free admission, quaint promotions, and community involvement out the ying-yang. Hearing some little kid belt out an off-key version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch always got to me.

A few Friday nights ago I happened to be in the Shenandoah Valley region and caught a game of the New Market Rebels, one of the signature teams of the Valley Baseball League, the Western Virginia confederation for amateur ballers. I was in awe. Old guys walked through the grandstands all night selling Fifty/Fifty raffle tickets, the local dairy council gave away free cake and milk, and we got the off-key version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Oh, and I also got a great ballgame that went 11 innings before the Rebs lost.

The whole event got me totally jazzed about the Clark Griffith League's upcoming season.

As soon as I got home I went online to get the league's 2010 schedule, yet saw only 2009 dates listed. After some Googling and phone calls I learned that there wouldn't be a 2010 season, and there's no guarantee there'll be a 2011 season, or any more seasons of Clark Griffith League ball.

Again, I'm crushed. Turns out the beginning of the end came when the Southern Maryland Cardinals jumped from the Clark Griffith League to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. That's the third Griffith team to defect to the more Baltimore-centric Ripken in five years, and the Griffith League might not recover from this one.

In fairness to the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr. doesn't have a close personal relationship with the league that bears his name. Originally, his family foundation licensed the name "Cal Ripken, Sr" to the wood bat league. But recently that licensing deal has been re-written and the Sr. was taken out so as to exploit the notoriety of Cal Jr. And, if you take the money, you gotta take the heat.

And while the Ripken league flourishes, now we've got no Clark Griffith Baseball in D.C. this summer.

Hence: "Darn you, Cal Ripken!"

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  1. #1

    saw ads for the new market rebels while passing through there this last weekend. i was surprised to see such a large league out in the valley(s). do they draw large crowds?

  2. #2

    IMG:the New Market game I went to had a massive crowd. the P.A. announcer told everybody the crowd was "48,512" or somesuch silly number, but it was probably at least 450 folks in the stands. I'm telling you, it's worth the two-hour drive just to go there on a game night. the setting is amazing, surrounded by mountains, and the production is better. on the night i went: free admission, free cake, free milk. Even free chocolate milk! all you could drink! i might have to go to Chocolate Milkers Anonymous if i run into a similar event again. plus, the kids today can play some baseball, i swear. the Vienna Senators, like i said in the post, also used to put on a great game. i really hope they can pull this thing back together. Tom Davis is the Clark Griffith League commissioner. he didn't return my calls to his office at the downtown lobbying firm where he now works, deloitte et al. Come on, Congressman Davis! Get on the ball! Show everybody what kind of juice you have in this town! Save a D.C. institution! I promise I'll go to more games if the league comes back!

  3. #3

    Mr. McKenna - There are two Virginia teams currently in the Cal Ripken League, the Herndon Braves and the Alexandria Aces. If you are looking to see great summer baseball games with rising star players, you should check out their games. The competitiveness that is in the Cal Ripken League can't even be compared to the Clark Griffith League (as I know, since I was involved with the CGL with both the Fauquier Gators and the Herndon Braves for 4 years before the Braves split to go the Cal Ripken). Every team has a shot at the playoffs, while in the Clark it was always skewed towards the Senators.

    Braves games are free, while the Aces charge, I believe $2.

    Also the majority of the games take place in sites around the Beltway. You should come to our All-Star game against the Valley League next Wednesday, July 14th at Shirley Povich Field, the home of the Bethesda Big Train. It's sure to be a great game.

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