Sandlot baseball debuts at Blue Crabs stadium
African-American legends honored as inspirational leaders of sandlot baseball league
Longtime baseball fans should be familiar with sandlot baseball, a form of makeshift baseball enjoyed to this day. This Sunday, the Charles County NAACP and Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will host “Celebrating Our Legends” during the Chesapeake Independent Baseball League’s All Star Game, honoring two African-American sandlot baseball legends.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs will give sandlot baseball its time to shine at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. Sandlot baseball legends Albert J. Watson, 91, of Brandywine and Sam Smith, 90, of Upper Marlboro will be honored for having played, coached, refereed and managed sandlot baseball. Smith and Watson will be in attendance to see six sandlot teams play at a
professional baseball team’s ballpark, including the team they own, the Drur y Giants.
Watson, Smith and John Makell are co-founders of the Chesapeake Independent Baseball League, founded in 1972. The Chesapeake Independent League is still in existence, with Watson serving as vice president of the league since its inception.
“It will be a great experience to bring sandlot baseball to a pro team’s ball park,” said Robert Briscoe, president of the Chesapeake Independent Baseball League. “I would have loved to have played in a facility like that when I played the sport. Currently there are only six sandlot teams in the entire Washington, D.C., metropolitan area because sandlot baseball has fallen off in the last nine years. But we are still recruiting and trying to stay afloat. We are still sur viving.”
Janice Wilson, president of the Charles County NAACP, pitched the event idea to Southern Maryland Blue Crabs General Manager Courtney Knichel and Chairman Peter Kirk, who she said has been supportive of event from the start. Wilson and Knichel strived to hold the event between the two legends’ birthdays. Watson turned 91 on June 29, and Smith will be 91 on Oct. 25.
“African-Americans don’t get the recognition that they deserve and both of these men have been a part of sandlot baseball since a ver y young age,” Wilson said. “By having these gentlemen being recognized it will be an inspiration for people to know that they have devoted their lives to the game of baseball and given their all to inspire young people and show them that sandlot baseball can be a very fun and rewarding sport.”
Wilson believes the changing demographics in Charles County prove it is necessary for the minority population to become involved in every aspect of the community, especially sports.
“We also wanted to find a way to draw more African-Americans to the game of baseball,” Wilson said. “There’s been a decline in the number of African-Americans playing the game and so this is an effort to increase that number and get more children involved in baseball.”
Smith coached and played in the Chesapeake Independent Baseball League. Smith is still the owner of the Drury Giants team, where he and Watson work side-by-side.
“I’ve been in baseball for about 60 years and been in the league for 42 years,” Smith said. “Baseball is the oldest activity that they have in this community. People look forward to going out, meeting, sitting back and looking at the ball game. I had a good crowd of people that followed our team and the league ran smoothly. But now, the boys are not as interested in baseball as they were years ago. I think in a year or so it will be all over with because there won’t be anybody to play in Southern Maryland.”
In 1968, Watson began managing when he used his personal funds to resurrect the Brandywine AC baseball team. It was also through one of the Brandywine players that Watson met his wife, Marie, to whom he’s been married for 71 years. From 1968 to 2015, Watson found himself managing a number of teams: Brandywine AC, CC Tigers, Bryantown AC, Berry Road Orioles, Pisgah AC and the Drury Giants. Altogether, his total championships and playoff records sit at well over 600 victories.
“Due to physical restrictions he retired from third base coaching in 2015, after 70 years. However, on Sundays you can still hear him hollering out instructions to his favorite team, the Drur y Giants,” said his son, Victor Watson.
Wilson and Briscoe said Watson and Smith are legendary because of their sustained dedication and promotion of sandlot baseball, while being a part of a predominantly African-American league. They both promoted diversity for all teams and showed exemplary leadership and character while managing and coaching over the many years.
At Sunday’s game, visitors of all ages will be able to view a display of artifacts from individuals who played with other teams in Southern Maryland, and meet the families of other sandlot baseball coaches, players and owners. The Chesapeake Independent Baseball League is expecting hundreds to come out and support sandlot baseball’s first game in a professional team’s ball park. Individuals who bring the flyer with them will receive the discounted price of $5 admission.