They say baseball is a game of inches. Okay, maybe that’s football. But for one Arlington Little League team, this can be taken somewhat literally.
The Athletics (A’s, for short) are a team made up of players and coaches who have been together for as long as six years, very much a rarity in a league where players often find themselves with new teammates every season.
This means they’ve seen each other grow up, in literal inches, from five-year-old tee-ballers to 11-year-old grand slam hitters.
“I have loved to see the team grow and I feel like we’ve bonded and made a lot of good memories and friends together on this team,” 11-year-old Alex Ng told ARLnow, who’s been on the team since he was six. “Players have come and gone, but the heart of the team is really nice to be around.”
At this level of Little League (the “majors”) teams are drafted, with the most skilled players often going first as is the case in the professional leagues. But A’s coach Dan Uscinski, or “Coach Dan,” has decided that their draft strategy is different: Pick the kids who’ve played together on their team before.
“It’s not like this is a blockbuster squad that I’ve manipulated the system to keep them together,” he said. “I thought it was important for these kids to just keep the team dynamic together as long as possible.”
The kids come from schools across the county, including Fleet Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Middle. This fall, they are playing their games at newly-renovated Jennie Dean Park.
Most seasons the team loses just as many times as they win, but that’s kind of the point. The players are learning how to win — and lose — together while growing and developing as a team. And making long-lasting friendships along the way.
“We built a pretty fun environment for the kids as a team. Kids go out, play for each other, and they built friendships out of it because baseball is ultimately supposed to be fun,” Uscinski said. “I’ve formed friendships that’ll last a lifetime too.”
Maya Kaufman has been on Coach Dan’s team since 2017 when she was six. She said that because the team has been together so long, they all know what each other is good at and what they need to work on.
“Because I’m so close with all these people, we give each other feedback and can tell each other what we need to do [better]… we pump each other up, but help each other know that you could have done this better,” Kaufman said. “If I was on another team, that might not happen.”
One of her favorite things is that over the years they’ve been able to come up with “funkier chants” than other teams.
“A lot of other teams have generic chants,” she said.
Jason Kaufman is an assistant coach on the team (and Maya’s dad). He says that’s probably the best part of it all, the kids are having fun and learning what it means to be responsible to one another.
“They don’t always work hard, but they are always having fun,” he said. “And they are certainly accountable to each other.”
And, this past spring, something special happened. Getting over a slow start, the team finished with a winning record and got into the playoffs. Then, they rattled off a bunch of upset wins to get into the championship game.
“Then, we got our butts kicked,” Uscinski laughed.
An Arlington Little League team has made the state tournament, becoming one of few teams to have done so in Arlington history.
This past Fourth of July weekend, the Arlington Little League National 5070 All-Stars won the District 4 championship tournament, besting teams from across the region including Vienna and McLean. In Sunday’s championship game, the team of 14 players, ages 12 and 13 years old, defeated the Alexandria Little League All-Star team. They won by a score of 10 to 5.
The next step is the Virginia state tournament, to be held in Henrico just outside of Richmond, with their first game scheduled for this Friday. The coaches believe this is only the third team in Arlington Little League history to advance to states.
Both players and coaches told ARLnow that what made this team special was everyone’s dedication and buy-in.
“All 14 [players] bought into the team aspect of what’s best for the team as opposed to what’s best for them as an individual,” Manager Mark Nersasian told ARLnow. “We got contributions from top to bottom [of the roster].”
Thirteen-year-old Nate Moseley, who pitches and plays first base for the team and attends Dorothy Hamm Middle School, said that Nersasian and the other coaches often reiterate this concept.
“[The coaches] always tells us that we need players who play for the team name on the front, not the [last name] on the back,” he said.
That task was even more complicated by the fact the team has only been together for a few weeks. This is an all-star team, picked from more than 100 players across nine Arlington Little League teams. The team was selected, in large part, by their teammates and fellow Arlington Little Leaguers, with players voting on who they think should make up the squad. Coaches also contributed to the selection of the roster.
As expected, the players proved themselves to be some of the best ball players in Arlington. Assistant coach Keith Stone says the blended roster can sometimes be a challenge when dividing up playing time, but that wasn’t the case for this group of middle-school-aged athletes.
“Most of them were the best players on their regular team. They got brought to this [team] and they may only get to bat one time or barely get to play in the field. They all bought into the collective good for the team,” Stone said. “For 12 and 13-year-olds, that’s not always the easiest thing to do.”
This Arlington Little League team isn’t in the same age group as those that are on ESPN every year. This team is a little bit older, mostly comprised of 13-year-olds, as opposed to 10, 11, and 12-year-olds. Therefore, the Arlington Little League team plays on fields that are larger, have longer base paths, and pitch further away.
Dylan Stone, a shortstop and pitcher, has been playing baseball in Arlington since he was four years old. He’s now 13 and attends Williamsburg Middle School. What he loves most about playing in Arlington Little League is being able to “play with friends and the competition.”
Little League Opening Day This Weekend — “For the first time since 2019, Arlington Little League will host its Opening Day on Sun, April 3 from 1-5:30 p.m. at Barcroft Park.” [Press Release]
Arlington Libraries Highlight Banned Books — “The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom recently issued a statement opposing widespread efforts to censor books in U.S. schools and libraries. Unfortunately, Virginia has been subject to these censorship efforts, and in light of this, Arlington Public Library is taking a stand to build awareness of these challenged books.” [Arlington Public Library]
AHC Announces New Leader — From a press release: “AHC Inc.’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Paul Bernard has been unanimously selected as the organization’s new President/Chief Executive Officer (CEO). He will join AHC in his new role on April 4.” Bernard fills a CEO seat at the affordable housing provided previously held by Walter Webdale, who retired after controversy over conditions at AHC’s Serrano Apartments. [AHC Inc.]
W-L Holding ‘Pink Games’ This Month — “W-L girls’ soccer is turning PINK for Doorways! Join the players in supporting survivors of domestic and sexual violence as well as families and youth experiencing homelessness.” [Doorways]
It’s April Fool’s Day — Mostly cloudy throughout the day today, April 1. Breezy, with a west wind 14 to 21 mph, with gusts as high as 34 mph. High of 65 and low of 43. Sunrise at 6:54 am and sunset at 7:33 pm. [Weather.gov]
Masks Required on Metro Starting Today — “Face coverings or masks be required when traveling on Metro effective Monday, May 18. The move strengthens Metro’s position on the matter, which has ‘strongly recommended’ the use of face coverings since early April.” [WMATA]
ACPD Officer Lends a Hand — Despite the challenges facing emergency responders during the pandemic, an Arlington County police officer helped a pair of residents with some heavy lifting for a DIY project in their yard over the weekend. [@dmvbbacademy/Twitter]
Little League Still Hoping to Play — “Arlington Little League has not yet given up on some kind of spring and summer baseball season… Until now, the 2020 season has not started in a league that consists of nearly 1,500 players because of the COVID-19 pandemic.” [InsideNova]
VHC Gets Gear Donation from Ford — “Many thanks to @Ford for their donation of 10k face shields! We are grateful for this show of support for those on the front lines.” [@VHC_Hospital/Twitter]
Local GOP Planning Drive-Thru Convention — “The 8th District Republican Committee is still finalizing the details, but expects to hold an unassembled caucus – dubbed a ‘drive-through convention’ – on May 30 in Springfield… delegates will be able to drive up, pick up a ballot, complete it and hand it back without leaving their vehicles. The results of voting will determine whether Mark Ellmore or Jeff Jordan will be the Republican nominee facing U.S. Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th) on Nov. 3.” [InsideNova]
Celtic House Looking Forward to Dine-In — “At Celtic House in Arlington, the business owners say they’re down at least 80 percent due to the coronavirus closures. They hope leaders will soon allow dining inside as their space is very limited on the patio… ‘It has really affected us a lot,’ said co-owner Michael McMahon about the coronavirus crisis… So far, he says they’ve been able to keep on all of their 19 workers.” [Gray DC Bureau]
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.