A Sense of Community at Povich Field
In the classic baseball movie, Field of Dreams, the famous line “if you build it, he will come” is representative of the protagonist’s larger goal to recreate an obsolete era: the quintessential Americana age of baseball, complete with peanuts and Cracker Jack.
Small towns like New Market, Va. or Oneonta, N.Y. have been able to hold onto the simplicity of that time. In areas where entertainment is limited and sense of community abundant, summer collegiate baseball thrives.
But Bethesda, Md. is far from a small town. Only a 20 minute drive stands between it and the nation’s capital where entertainment alternatives and social opportunities are never lacking. So in the mid-’90’s when Bruce Adams came up with the idea of creating a local collegiate summer baseball team, he knew he was taking a gamble.
“Conventional wisdom said that this would not work in Bethesda,” Adams said. “We could have built it and they wouldn’t come. But they did.”
In 1995, after having served on the Montgomery County Council, Adams was asked to coach his five-year-old son’s recreational baseball team. Once the season began, Adams was shocked to discover the neglected state of the county’s baseball fields.
“The fields we played on were absolutely awful,” Adams said. “It was just embarrassing. Being on the County Council and voting on the budget of the Parks department, I felt some sense of responsibility. I did not realize how bad the fields were. So I thought, ‘I need to do something about this.’”
Adams then attempted to convince county officials that field improvements were necessary, but was told that there was no room in the budget to accommodate the field upkeep.
Around that same time, in the summers of 1995 and 1996, Adams had another baseball project on his hands. He and his family took a cross-country vacation in search of the best baseball experiences, which Adams and his wife, Margaret Engel, would then compile into a Fodor’s travel guide called “Baseball Vacations: Great Family Trips to Minor League and Classic Major League Ballparks Across America.”
During a stop in Oneonta, N.Y., a town just south of Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, a group of minor league players asked Adams if he had ever heard of Shenandoah Valley summer college baseball. Adams, a self-proclaimed baseball fanatic, hadn’t.
“I went back to my wife and said if this was anywhere as cool as these guys were explaining it, it would be a great Sunday magazine piece for the Washington Post,” Adams said. “So that’s what we did. The next summer, we went down to the Shenandoah Valley and watched college summer baseball for about five or six weekends and did a piece for the Post.”
It was there in New Market, Va., writing about the Shenandoah Valley Summer League that Adams experienced his Field of Dreams epiphany.
“It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Adams said. “They had a population of probably 2500 and would get 900 to 1000 fans out for every game. It was so old-fashioned, so Americana. And I felt like, ‘I’ve got to be a part of this.’”
Adams didn’t want to spend his summer nights driving back and fourth on Route 66 to and from the Shenandoah Valley. Instead, he wanted to recreate the same atmosphere closer to home.
“Paul Newman makes the salad dressing and then takes the profits and puts them to a cause— that was sort of the idea,” Adams said. “Let’s have a summer baseball team, let’s make it so much fun that people come out, and then take the profits and put it toward improving fields for kids. And to me, it’s way more fun to watch baseball than make salad dressing.”
To raise money for a new team and stadium, he reached out to John Ourisman, president of Ourisman Automotive Enterprises, as a partner.
The two began seeking sponsorships from companies like Geico and Lockheed Martin for the ballpark, but soon developed a different idea.
Adams had gone to the same high school as television personality Maury Povich, the son of legendary Washington Post sports columnist Shirley Povich (the namesake of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism).
Adams and Ourisman visited Povich in New York to ask if he would be interested in becoming a sponsor. Povich thought it would be a great way to honor his late father, who loved baseball. Povich Field was born.
“Having that name, as opposed to a commercial name, was one of the things that really embedded this thing into the community as a really worthy idea,” Adams said. “So many people of the now older generation grew up, practically learned to read through reading the sports section of the Washington Post. There was a lot of admiration and love for Shirley Povich.”
Construction on Povich Field began in 1998, using about a million and a half dollars of funds to transform a preexisting field into a ballpark with a grandstand, press box and park lights.
For 16 years now, Povich Field has been home to the Bethesda Big Train summer collegiate baseball team. Games span from late May to early August and feature Division I student athletes from all around the country, including a few each year from the University of Maryland.
“We like having them because, most of the time, they’re local guys so they know the area,” said Eddie Herndon, President and General Manager of Big Train. “The Maryland program itself has become one of the best in the nation, so if we can get a couple Maryland guys, we definitely want them. There are a lot of Maryland grads in the area so that can bring in a lot of fans.”
Baseball players weren’t the only UMD students who decided to spend this summer honing their craft at Big Train, though. Sophomore multi-platform journalism major Chris Rogers, along with two other UMD classmates, worked as sports writing interns at Povich Field.
“I live about five minutes from Big Train’s field and I’ve been going to their games for a long time,” Rogers said. “I was scrolling through my emails in December or January and I saw something about an internship with Big Train. I love baseball and want to go into sports writing, so I applied and they took me.”
This summer, about 16 interns worked for college credit in one of two areas: 12 of them worked in operations, while the other four, including Rogers, covered each game as sports journalists. Responsibilities included writing online articles, working on the live video stream or radio broadcast, designing nightly game programs, and running the team’s Twitter account.
“It changed what I want to do for a career,” Rogers said. “Before, my dream was to write for an organization like The Washington Post or The New York Times and just cover sports in general, but after doing this, it gave me the idea of working for a team. Every team has people that write press releases and articles for the team, so it’s opened me up to maybe wanting to do that.”
Yet another College Park connection to Big Train is through George Solomon, Director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. Solomon has been a longtime supporter of Big Train baseball, attending games to throw out the first pitch and to speak about Shirley Povich, whom he worked with at the Post as a former sports editor.
“Not a lot of the younger generation knows what a great person and writer and important figure Shirley Povich was to the country as a whole and especially sports in the DC area,” Herndon said. “[Solomon] came out and gave fans a speech just to remind them why we named it after him and how important he was to the community.”
Over the course of 16 years, players have come and gone. Nine of them have gone on to successful careers in the MLB, including Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and Colorado Rockies catcher Michael McKenry. But while those players come and go, one thing remains at Povich Field: a sense of community.
“A guy came up to John Ourisman the first year and he said, ‘John, when I come out to Povich Field, I feel like I live in a small town,’” Adams said. “Somehow, we managed to take the culture of New Market, Va. where everybody shows up to the ballpark for games and they know each other and there’s a warm feeling of pride and a sense of community, and put it in a big, busy place like Bethesda. That’s pretty cool.”