Work Samples

Little League Is a Hit in Upper Northwest

Baseball Brings Families Together in Chevy Chase

October 25, 2008

By David Driver
For the Washington Post
Used with permission

When Maria Velleca and her family moved from Connecticut in the summer of 2006, she told their real estate agent in Washington there was one condition.

"We can't move until All-Stars is over," said Velleca, who didn't want to move her two sons until after the highlight of their youth baseball season.

The agent pointed out the Velleca family had purchased a house in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of Washington, home to Capitol City Little League, one of the more active youth baseball programs in the city.

"It just made our transition smoother," Velleca, now a biology professor at Georgetown University, said of the league. This past season her husband, Mark, helped coach one of the teams. Both boys still play.

In an era where youth increasingly flock to basketball and football, Capitol City Little League has helped counter that trend. There are 25 baseball teams spread across four divisions -- Major, Minor, American and National -- and 10 softball teams for girls. The league has been around for about 20 years.

There are about 475 players, including about 25 girls who play baseball. The fall season runs through Nov. 15. The league uses five fields, including one at Lafayette Elementary School and the Chevy Chase field just south of Western Avenue.

League vice president David Schauer, whose family has lived in the neighborhood since 2001, has three sons who play.

"I wanted to find a place where a sense of community was a top priority," said Schauer, who was a pitcher in college at Liberty University in Virginia and retired from the U.S. Navy in 2004. "I like to tell people that baseball builds a better community. That is what we are doing with Cap City."

The league has run clinics that have featured Brendan Sullivan, who played in high school at St. Albans and pitched in the minor leagues; Rod Delmonico, the former head coach at the University of Tennessee; and local youth coaching legend John "Coach Mac" McCarthy, who was instrumental in bringing Lastings Milledge of the Washington Nationals to a recent clinic.

Games are a focus of family life in the neighborhood, an affluent area of Northwest Washington that straddles Connecticut Avenue south of Western Avenue.

"This league and this neighborhood are very intertwined. It is the source of a lot of friendships," said Hassan Murphy, the father of two boys who play.

Murphy, whose family lives on Stevens Place, grew up in Baltimore and played baseball as a boy. He played lacrosse in college at Williams and now coaches one of the teams in the Capitol City league.

Murphy is African American and estimated that about 20 percent of the players in the league are ethnic minorities. He pointed out that two sons of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty play in the league in the minor division with the Monarchs, although the Fenty family does not live in Chevy Chase.

"This neighborhood is tremendous," said Murphy, a lawyer. "You don't find neighborhoods like this in too many places. This league is such a community anchor."

One of the other community anchors is Lafayette Elementary School, where Lisa Jensen has been a teacher for 18 years. Two of her sons, Cooper and Jeremy, played in the Capitol City league this year.

"We come to these games, and it is hard to root for your own team because you know people on both teams," Jensen said. "Capitol City is trying to foster baseball in other parts of the city, which I think is great."

The Capitol City program has sent alumni to the varsity level of several local high schools, including Wilson, Maret, Georgetown Day, Gonzaga, Landon, Sidwell Friends, St. Albans, St. Anselm's and St. John's.

And some players have advanced to the college ranks, including Ian Horkley (Davidson), Will Krasne (Stanford), Byron Peyster (Washington & Lee), Ben Sestanovich (Harvard), Mike Sheridan (William and Mary), Alex Spilotes (Haverford), Marcus Stoiber (Occidental), Tommy Vladek (Pomona) and Daniel White (Kenyon).

Sheridan, 21, was drafted in June out of William and Mary by the Tampa Bay Rays and made his pro debut this past summer with the Hudson Valley Renegades in the New York-Penn League. He hit .321 in one of the lowest rungs of the minor league ladder.

Sheridan grew up on Northampton Street and started attending Capitol City games to watch his two older brothers play for their father, an accountant who coached the White Sox. Mike Sheridan attended elementary school at Lafayette and Blessed Sacrament in the Chevy Chase neighborhood.

"I think one of the best things about it is it gets a bunch of kids from the community together," said Sheridan, who noted that many of the players attend different schools. "I met kids I am friends with today. There is a lot of sitting around and talking in baseball. You meet a lot of people."

Sheridan was teammates with Cameron Dantley, the son of Basketball Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley, who now plays football at Syracuse University. They played in the league at the same time as Luke Russert, the son of television journalist Tim Russert.

"It is a pretty high-scale neighborhood. Parents are working through the hours of the night," Sheridan said. "It has brought us kids together, which in turn brought families together."

When Sheridan was 11 he played on a Capitol City All-Star team that lost to a squad from Toms River, N.J., in a regional tournament. That New Jersey team won the Little League World Series.

"It was pretty much the highlight of my week," Sheridan said of games when he was a boy.

Now a new generation of players, some of whom dream of following Sheridan to the pro ranks, are enjoying youth baseball.

On a recent weekend afternoon Will Stone sat behind home plate at the Chevy Chase field and watched his son, Robert, make his pitching debut. Taking the mound for the Cubs, the younger Stone retired the first three batters on the Tigers squad in a 10-12 age group game.

"Very good. Nice job," shouted the elder Stone, after his son threw out a runner at first.

The Stone family has lived in Chevy Chase for about 12 years, and he has worked as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. But Stone, who is also a local scoutmaster, said high-powered jobs make little difference when watching Capitol City games.

"No one makes a big deal about what they do," said Stone, as Metro buses zipped by behind the center field fence on Western Avenue. "It is fun. It is relaxed. We don't have any obnoxious jock dads. No one runs the score up on anybody."

After all, that would not be very neighborly.