When Richie Pacheco started thinking about a namesake for Arlington Travel Baseball‘s new fall tournament a few years back, he says it was a “no-brainer” to turn to longtime coach Sam Fox.
As a youth sports coach in Arlington since 1966, Fox is as close to an institution as it comes in the county. He’s been coaching so long, in fact, that Pacheco, the president of the travel baseball league’s board, says he got the chance to learn from Fox when he was a kid decades ago.
Even still, tournaments are often designed as memorials to legends of the past, so Pacheco wasn’t quite sure how Fox would react to the suggestion. Apparently, it was quite well received.
“I think his words were that he’d rather be around to enjoy it than to have a memorial when he’s not around anymore,” Pacheco told ARLnow.
The rest is history. The travel baseball league held its second “Coach Fox Fall Classic” this past weekend, with seven teams and roughly 100 kids from ages 9 to 13 competing. Though it may be just a small gesture, Pacheco hopes it helps make people aware of Fox’s legacy in Arlington.
“Sam has given so much to the community, this is just something simple we could do to recognize that,” Pacheco said.
Fox himself says the tournament was a “very nice honor,” but wasn’t willing to cast his influence in the county in such grand terms.
He says he grew up in Arlington, and first started playing baseball in Barcroft Park. He even went on to get a job working for the county maintaining its athletic fields, but he says it wasn’t until one fateful day in Bluemont Park that his coaching career got going.
“I had practice with some kids in the neighborhood there, and a coach asked to see if I could help out with the team, so I agreed,” Fox said.
Yet, over the years, Fox watched as the baseball scene in the county changed, with the original league splitting in two groups affiliated with national youth leagues: one with Babe Ruth baseball, one with Little League. Pacheco helped started the travel baseball league a few years back, as a way for all Arlington ballplayers to play together and bridge the gap between the two.
But even as the teams and leagues shifted, Fox’s coaching style didn’t.
“I coach kids to have fun, and if we win doing it, that’s fine,” Fox said. “And, if not, the sun will come up tomorrow.”
Fox says he normally focused on pitchers, and has thrown more than his fair share of batting practices over the years. Pacheco’s enduring memory of his coaching style is simple: “When he talks, people listen.”
“He knows the game and he knows how to teach,” Pacheco said. “It’s about doing your homework, tuck in your shirt, that sort of thing. He’s teaching kids life lessons on and off the field.”
When asked if any particular memory stands out over his 50 years of coaching, Fox was direct: “No,” he answered plainly. But he says the totality of his experience over the years, which also included lengthy stints coaching basketball and football, is what really stands out.
“I love seeing where the kids start on day one and where they finish at the end of the season,” Fox said. “It’s been fun.”
Fox says he’s slowing down a little, particularly after suffering a mild stroke this summer. Yet he fully plans to keep working with the travel league where he can, and make a few more memories in the process.
“As long as it’s still fun, and my health is still good, I’ll keep coaching,” Fox said. “And it’s still fun.”
With the MLB’s All-Star squads in town, some Arlington Little Leaguers got a chance to hit the field at Nats Park.
The MLB invited 10 members of the county’s “Challenger” squad, reserved for kids with special needs, to square off in a special game Friday (July 13) against other players from across the D.C. region.
Players from other Little League Challenger teams and similar “Miracle League” teams took the field alongside several former Nats players — Sean Burnett, Scott Hairston, Kevin Frandsen and John Lannan — not to mention Nats mascot Screech and “Racing President” Teddy Roosevelt.
Each player participating got their own at-bat and a chance to circle the bases. Parents and volunteers from the various teams, including five from Arlington’s squad, helped staff the event.
MLB will wrap up its All-Star Week festivities with its 89th annual All-Star game tonight (Tuesday) at Nats Park.
The Washington Nationals’ fourth inning Presidents Race looked a little different on Saturday (June 9) — as Teddy, Abe and Tom rushed to catch up with George, they hit an obstacle in the form of six smaller presidents.
Arms outstretched, the little presidents — boys from Abingdon Elementary School — blocked the racers from passing, while a seventh student, dressed as Nats mascot Screech, waited to greet a victorious George at the finish line.
“The boys were just freaking out,” parent Catherine Ladd said. “They were like, ‘This is epic, this is amazing.'”
Their path to Nationals Park began last Halloween, when all seven boys attended a parade at their elementary school wearing paper mache George, Tom, Bill, Herbie, Teddy and Screech heads to go with Nationals jerseys and baseball gear.
Ladd spent five weeks crafting the costumes, and things escalated quickly from there. Parents at the parade tweeted pictures to the Nationals, a team representative called the next day and the racing presidents themselves were at Abingdon Elementary the following Monday (Nov. 6) to invite the boys to a race, Ladd said.
“I never thought that we’d ever get the invitation to go down to Nats [Park]… I was just hoping [the costumes] looked okay at the end,” Ladd said.
Given that it has been 13 years since their inaugural season, the Nationals are older than the “Little Presidents” themselves, making them part of “the first generation that’s die-hard Nats fans as kids,” Ladd said.
“Seeing the Nationals do this for them was such a special experience and such a treat and so kind of them,” she said.
Several of the boys participated in Arlington Little League playoff games Saturday morning before heading to the stadium.
“It was kind of cool to see [them] live out their major league dreams in a way,” Ladd said.
Before racing, the Little Presidents also got to spend some time with their bigger counterparts and collect autographs.
“The presidents and Screech [signed] a ball for each of the kids,” Ladd said. “For them, that’s just as cool as a major league baseball player.”
As for next Halloween, Ladd has a feeling the Little Presidents might make another appearance.
“I think this is going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” she said.
Abingdon Elementary School’s own version of the Washington Nationals’ Racing Presidents got a visit from the real thing at school today (Monday).
The seven students and Little League friends, who wore the custom-made costumes for Halloween, were surprised by the four Racing Presidents, who race around Nationals Park during every home game. It took parent Catherine Ladd five weeks to custom-make the costumes.
The Presidents came into an assembly at the school in Fairlington and gave the boys signed bobbleheads and tickets for them and their families to the team’s Winterfest in December.
“The final surprise was that the Nats presidents invited the Petite Presidents to race them at Nats Stadium in the spring,” Kathleen Branch, a parent at the school, said. “The boys were shocked, as they were told that they had to wear their uniforms to school to pose for more photos. They had no idea that the assembly was for the surprise announcement. Catherine Ladd, the creator of the Petite Presidents, was presented with a signed Bryce Harper jersey.
“The parents and families thank the Washington Nationals for their recognition of a school that loves the Washington Nationals.”
Photos via Catherine Ladd
— Abingdon APS (@AbingdonGIFT) November 6, 2017
Arlington Kicking Off Budget Process Early — Normally it is a conversation that starts later in the year, but for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2019 budget process Arlington County is holding “an earlier-than-ever-before series of roundtable discussions on budget priorities and challenges.” The first is scheduled to take place at Westover Library on Friday, Sept. 29. [Arlington County]
More Renovations for Crystal House — The second phase of an extensive renovation process at the massive, historic Crystal House apartment complex in Crystal City is complete: “Some of the amenities include two rooftop ‘sky decks’ with billiard tables, rooftop grilling and dining areas, and a fitness center with a yoga studio. There is also an Olympic-sized swimming pool, new lobbies with Wi-Fi, a clubroom, and a conference room.” [Curbed]
Arlington’s Little League Coach of the Year — Arlington Little League coach Larry Patent beat out 276 other coaches in the league to win the honor of Coach of the Year. “What makes Larry Patent special,” writes a reporter for TV station WUSA 9, “is that he coaches a team made up of players with mental and physical disabilities.” [WUSA 9]
County to Issue New Bonds — Arlington County is expected to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of revenue bonds next month. The bonds will fund the acquisition of the Buck property across from Washington-Lee High School, the “acquisition, design and construction of an office building at 2920 S. Glebe Road,” and “upgrades to the County’s Assessment and Collection system and Enterprise Payments System.” The bonds will also refinance older bonds and save up to $3.8 million. [Arlington County]
Jimmy Carter Can’t Help Local Office Market — Despite the protestations of a local civic activist, Arlington County officials say they cannot successfully sue the federal government over a 1970s-era executive order from President Jimmy Carter that gave D.C. and Arlington “priority in the location of federal agencies in the Washington area.” Federal offices have been moving out of Arlington for cheaper office space farther away from the District. [InsideNova]
Photo courtesy Joe Cashwell
By the time she was 9 years old, Isabel Graham had earned a black belt in mixed martial arts and, with a younger brother around, has always enjoyed being in charge.
So it seemed like a natural fit when she began umpiring in Arlington Little League earlier this season.
Out of an officiating roster of dozens of teenagers and a handful of adults, Graham is currently the only female ump in the league. (An older female umpire is out with an injury.)
But the 14-year-old Graham, an eighth-grader at St. Thomas More Cathedral School, said that her gender has never been an issue for anyone as she takes charge of games at the AAA and Majors levels for children up to the age of 12.
“At this age the players don’t actually know that it’s different, so they treat me like anyone else,” she said before a recent game at Fort Scott Park. “The only people who know it’s different are the parents, so the moms always give me a smile.”
Graham combines her umpiring with playing travel softball for Arlington Sage, and also plays basketball during the winter. She was introduced to umpiring by her friend and St. Thomas More classmate Nicolas Lopez-Riveira, now in his third season overseeing Little League games.
And she seems to have taken to the umpiring quickly. She said it is very similar to playing catcher on her softball team, as she is in charge and sees a lot of action behind home plate.
“It’s exciting, but I guess I’ve seen her in so many things where if she’s not in charge, she’s at least constantly aware of what’s going on,” said her father Michael Graham. “I’m not surprised that she enjoys it, mostly because of the interest in softball and baseball. I’m glad that she’s doing it.”
To become an umpire, Isabel Graham went through training on the rules of the game and how to handle situations on the field. League umpire-in-chief Steve Sundbeck said he has approximately 65 teenagers and seven adults, including himself, that umpire. The league has approximately 1,500 children as young as 4 that play baseball.
Sundbeck said he looks to use the training program to teach new umpires good sportsmanship and confidence, something that is helped by a league culture in Arlington that emphasizes earning respect and doing your best, regardless of age.
“It really is a matter of doing the best job you can in the first place, because they’ll know when you’re getting lazy and not getting in position,” Sundbeck said. “And you just know what to ignore and what to call out that you’re not putting up with. We try to teach them the rubric.”
And while Isabel Graham said she gets nervous before games start, once the batter settles into the box, it feels natural.
“They’re really just trying to have fun, and they often don’t understand what’s happening, they just want to get out there and play,” she said. “I don’t think there’s that much pressure. Mostly I’m just pressuring myself. I’ll always think I’ll make mistakes, but I’ll have to get over it.”
Isabel Graham will start at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria in the fall and said she hopes to continue umpiring and maybe move up to the 50/70 level, the highest in Arlington Little League.
“She’s always been a fairly focused, confident kid and loves all things baseball as well as being in charge,” said Michael Graham. “So being an umpire seems to be a really good fit for her personality and interest in sports. Whether she’s the only girl or the first girl to do anything has never really been of concern to her.”
The end of renovations at Tuckahoe Park will be marked Saturday with a ribbon-cutting to mark the completion of a two-year project. The ribbon-cutting is set for 11:15 a.m.
The park at 2400 N. Sycamore Street in East Falls Church has had its bleachers and benches renovated, while the bullpens and batting cages for local baseball players have also had a facelift.
In addition, the grass and dirt in the park’s two diamond fields have been revamped and drainage improved, while a new electronic scoreboard has been added for use by the community and the nearby Bishop O’Connell High School. O’Connell contributed $18,000 towards purchasing the scoreboard.
ADA accessibility has also been added around the park, including from 26th Street N., the school and the existing park trail near N. Sycamore Street.
The park is already being used by Arlington Little League and other community groups. The County Board approved the $1 million renovation project in 2015.
The diamond athletic field at Gunston Park will be converted from natural grass to synthetic turf after the Arlington County Board approved a $370,000 plan Tuesday night.
The nonprofit Arlington Sports Foundation offered a grant of $180,000 to convert the field, and the county sports commission’s Diamond Field Fund will pay the additional $190,000. The project is on top of a previously-approved $1.4 million maintenance and improvement plan at the park.
It is estimated the new field will add nearly 880 new possible playing hours per year, at a time when there is high demand for athletic fields in the county.
“Both the number of people playing sports in Arlington, and the hours our fields are in use continue to grow. We need creative solutions to meet the demand,” said County Board chair Jay Fisette. “Kudos to the Arlington Sports Foundation and the sports community for helping fund the conversion of Gunston’s field and expand its community use without increasing taxpayer support.”
Before the board’s unanimous approval of the project, there had been questions raised about the safety of the synthetic turf, which will be made from EPDM rubber. Local resident Kelly Alexis asked that a natural ingredient like coconut husks be used instead, and cited previous concerns about the health risks of playing on turf, especially that made up of crumb rubber.
Board vice chair Katie Cristol and others said the health of children is something Arlington takes “incredibly seriously,” and asserted that the health risks of EPDM are minimal.
Several members of the county’s sports community testified in favor of the conversion. Arlington Little League president Adam Balutis said the new turf means more games can be played and not be canceled or postponed due to the weather.
“Everybody would love to have natural, beautiful green fields that we could upkeep all year round and play and play and play, but it’s not possible in Arlington County because we don’t have enough space,” said Daniel Lopez, vice president of the board of the Arlington Soccer Association. “So the next best thing is we try to turf these fields so everybody can use them and everybody can enjoy them.”
Board members said that the funding model for the new turf field is something that could be repeated elsewhere, especially if community members are willing to help fundraise.
“We know in today’s tight funding times that the government is not going to be able to do it all and will rely increasingly on the generosity of the folks in our community,” said John Vihstadt.
“I think we’ve maybe got a new model,” said Board member Libby Garvey.
Power Outage at Courthouse Metro Station — A power outage has been reported at the Courthouse Metro station. The outage turned off most of the lights and trapped some customers in the station’s elevator, according to Twitter accounts. The station is said to now be operating on emergency power. [Twitter, Twitter]
Interview with John Vihstadt — Washingtonian has published a Q&A with Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt. During the interview, Vihstadt said of county government: “by and large, it’s well managed.” Before he was elected, however, Vihstadt said the county was in danger of losing its way. “There was a growing consensus that we were too self-congratulatory. There was too much ‘Aren’t we doing great?’ And if there was room for improvement, it was nothing another taxpayer dollar couldn’t solve.” [Washingtonian]
Another AAA Rating for Arlington — Bond rating agency Fitch Ratings has again assigned Arlington County its top AAA rating. The high rating allows the county to borrow money more cheaply than less creditworthy jurisdictions. [BusinessWire]
Rising Sea Levels and Arlington — A new interactive map shows what rising sea levels would mean for D.C. and Arlington. The good news is that the two meters of sea level rise predicted to occur by 2100 would result in little impact for most of Arlington; the most vulnerable areas are portions of Reagan National Airport, East Potomac Park in D.C. and other areas along the banks of the Potomac. [Washingtonian]
Arlington Little League Opening Day — It looks to be a cool and cloudy start to the local little league season this weekend. Arlington Little League’s 30th anniversary season kicks off at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Barcroft Park. [Twitter]
One Year Anniversary for Shirlington Restaurant — Osteria da Nino in Shirlington (2900 S. Quincy Street) is celebrating its one year anniversary on Sunday. The restaurant will offer a complimentary glass of Prosecco and appetizers for guests from 4-6 p.m. [ARLnow]
Flickr pool photo by Airamangel
Arlington Native Murdered in California — Christopher Wrenn, an Arlington native, was shot to death in a San Jose, California office park last week. The motive for the shooting remains a mystery, but two of the three suspects have since been shot and killed by police. Wrenn, a Washington-Lee High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran, was noted for having a big personality and always having a story to tell — like how he was baby-sat by actress Sandra Bullock as a kid. [San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, CBS Bay Area]
Arlington Little League Memories — The local little league used to keep statistics on each player, and “Our Man in Arlington” columnist Charlie Clark recently dug up some of those records. Among the batting averages of some notable Arlingtonians are .172 for CNBC managing editor and anchor Tyler Mathisen, .212 for Italian Store owner Bobby Tramonte and .290 for Clark himself. [Falls Church News-Press]
Renovations at Nam Viet — Long-time Clarendon restaurant Nam Viet is undergoing some renovations this week. A sign in the window says the eatery at 1127 N. Hudson Street will reopen Monday, Aug. 24.
Hat tip to Benjamin M. Flickr pool photo by David Giambarresi.
Col. Randy Huiss, better known as “Coach Randy,” coaches the Orioles Little League team. After their final practice before “the big championship game” last week, the team and the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families honored Huiss with a Connect with Kids award. The awards are given to people who go above and beyond in spending time with, and building relationships with, children and teens.
Parents of the players are fans of Coach Randy’s interactions with the kids. They say he has a positive view of how the game should be played, with a focus on fun.
“Randy’s focus has never been on winning the games, but on letting the kids play,” said Amy Yamashiro. “It is these precious experiences that make kids, like my son, very happy and greatly increase enjoyment of playing on a team.”
Parents also say his attitude is something that the kids can look up to and emulate.
“Every game has been a positive experience that included teaching good sportsmanship based on respect for each other,” said Tracy Gaudet.
The Connect With Kids awards are given in the spring and the fall each year. However, a special exception was made to give the award early, because Huiss had to deploy to Qatar on Tuesday, June 19.
“We’re very pleased we could present this to him before he left,” said Mary Ann Moran with the Arlington Partnership for Children, Youth and Families. “He really gets it about children and sports and what’s important and what isn’t.”