Excellence on the field, but not the actual field

Ben Korn

For 25 consecutive years, the Wilson Tigers baseball team has brought the city championship trophy back to Tenleytown. Last year, they made a deep postseason run–eventually falling to Gonzaga in the championships on the manicured field of the Washington Nationals. By all accounts they are a premier baseball organization with a stellar track record of victories. Their own home field, however, at Fort Reno, is marked with holes and puddles, divots and dimples, and is often derided as “Lake Reno.”

The field is owned by the National Park Service, and the Department of General Services (DGS) is supposed to perform upkeep on their behalf. In reality, over 50 players on the varsity, junior varsity, and freshman teams–and their coaches–spend hours of their own time performing maintenance and making sure the field is in usable condition. They receive no funding from DGS for their work.

Most of the field is supposed to be Bermuda grass, a smoother variety. Instead, after years of use, crabgrass has sprouted up across the field. This strain is known to clump together, increasing chances for injuries and causing ground balls to take wild and unpredictable bounces. These bounces, deemed “Reno hops” by the team, add to the challenge of fielding.

DGS performs maintenance “1-2 times per week depending on the weather and the growth of the Bermuda grass,” the agency said in an email.

After any sort of rain, “all of the right side of the infield are puddles that are probably a few inches deep” said Theo Shapinsky, a senior center fielder. Shapinsky estimates that at least five to 10 practices per season are either canceled because of the field, or are completely dedicated to maintaining Reno, each season.

“We’ve lost four practices where our players are out on the field getting it ready. At the beginning of the season we had 51 players out on the field picking out all the crab grass and working on the dirt,” said Pitching Coach Trey Polston.

Wilson baseball is not the only user of the field. Other baseball programs use the field, as well as other sports team, who cause damage. Soccer teams practice in the outfield– sometimes at the same time as the baseball team–making the team unable to hit fly balls.

Capital City, a youth baseball league, that uses Fort Reno, has made some of their own improvements. They brought in over 30 tons of professional-grade dirt on two semi-trucks from Canada, on their own dime. Other improvements requested by the Wilson team, include a permanent outfield fence, turf, and lights have been denied by the National Park Service.

Other baseball programs from around the area have taken note of Fort Reno.

When their schedule gets announced, some member of the St. Albans Bulldogs will inevitably call out that they hope “to play Wilson at home this year.” Not for their own fans in the stadium, but to avoid playing at Reno.

“I’ll usually get a tough hop and it’s pretty hard to read,” said Zach Schauer who plays first base for St. Albans. Their team, which plays on a turf field, does not spend any time maintaining their field, leaving the whole practice solely for baseball activities.

Julian Warren, a junior at Maret who plays third base, says his team is well-aware of the unpredictability of playing on the Reno field. He says the infield dirt has “lots of rocks and so the ball takes a lot of bad hops in the infield and the outfield.”