Sand­lot base­ball de­buts at Blue Crabs sta­dium

African-Amer­i­can le­gends hon­ored as in­spi­ra­tional lead­ers of sand­lot base­ball league

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­

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.

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