Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Not all baseball fans study history, and not all history scholars follow baseball.

But Johnathan Thomas, ex-local Little Leaguer and acting historian of the Washington Golf and Country Club, united the camps on May 11, treating fans to yesteryear tales from the diamonds of Arlington.
Thomas took a 21st century approach to his presentation sponsored by the Arlington Historical Society at Marymount University—giving pee-wee league veterans such as I the chance as adults to look back with more savvy.

Drawing on his personal collection along with scrapbooks from coaches, the nostalgist from a multi-generation Arlington family showcased photos of early 20th-century black semi-pro teams—the Virginia Black Sox, the Arlington Athletics and the Green Valley Quick Steps. They played African-American squads from Georgetown, Anacostia and Annapolis on Peyton Field near today’s Green Valley. (It wasn’t until 1946 that Arlington County purchased the recently renovated Jennie Dean Park on that site, and integration of school and youth leagues came in 1961.)

After Arlington left Alexandria County in 1920, as Thomas confirmed via clippings, Judge William Gloth was first chairman of white adult teams organized during a 1922 Clarendon Carnival baseball night, a festival and game planned between the Arlington Athletic Club and D.C.’s Rex Athletic Club. Arlington schools, beginning with Cherrydale, began fielding teams in 1923.

It would be a while before hometown boys made the majors, but Culpepper, Va., native Eppa Rixey Jr., nephew of Admiral Presley Rixey­­––whose land both the country club and Marymount stand today—pitched for the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies from 1912-33. Once Washington-Lee (now Liberty) High School opened in 1925, an array of future pro players cycled through. The “first W-L superstar” was George McQuinn, ’27, who went onto play first base for the St. Louis Browns before founding McQuinn’s Sporting Goods in Clarendon. W-L’s class of ’38 included star athlete Forrest Tucker, who got sidetracked into acting, and multi-sport star Vince Kirchner ’41, who was drafted in the minor leagues.
The speaker seemed most impressed with W-L ’66 grad Clay Kirby, who, after terrifying batters in both Little League and high school, pitched powerfully for the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals. Thomas showed his baseball card, along with a rare one of his next-door neighbor, Jay Franklin, my 12-year-old Arlington All-Star teammate in 1965 (moved to Vienna when I-66 was built), who was tapped for a three-game “cup of coffee” pitching for the Padres in 1971.

Highlights for me were the Little Major League memories, which Thomas documented as launching in 1951 at “Four Mile Run Play Field”—now Barcroft Park. Give credit to the sponsors—McQuinn’s, Arlington Kiwanis, Arlington, Arlington Motors, M.T. Broyhill & Sons, Yeatman’s Hardware and Red Shield (Salvation Army). Thomas’ props included his own Arlington Trust shirt. Also shown on all-star teams were Italian Store owner Bobby Tramonte (in 1966) and the speaker’s brother Harry Thomas (1967). The speaker showed a beautiful photo of my brother Tom riding the bench as a nine-year-old for Optimist Club in 1961 at Bluemont Park.

I asked whether he could give credit, after all these decades, to moms and dads who gave of themselves driving us to practice and games. Mrs. Thomas, who had four sons, he replied, counted 87 games she attended in a single year.

The Wakefield High School Education Foundation will induct seven alums to its Hall of Fame June 12. Watch for Dave Bautista, ’88, world champion professional wrestler and Hollywood actor; Robert Carpenter, ’63, pioneer in healthcare and biotech industries, National Medal of Technology winner; Tonya Chapman, ’84, Arlington police officer who became city manager of Portsmouth, Va.; Portia Clark, ’77, Nauck (now Green Valley) community leader and history activist; Ronald Heinemann, ’57, Hampden-Sydney College U.S. history professor who wrote on the Depression and New Deal in Virginia; Karen Loucks Rinedollar, ’81, founded Project Linus to distribute handmade blankets to the needy; and Nancy Rexroth, ’64, photographic art pioneer displayed at Corcoran Gallery and Library of Congress.