The Baltimore Orioles hold spring training in balmy Sarasota, Fla. The Pirates of the Roland Park Baseball Leagues were lucky to sneak in a practice before Friday's snow.
"We're here to play baseball. It's supposed to be spring," said Ann Valuntis, of Wyman Park, who was bundled up on a chilly Thursday evening as she watched her son, Sebastian, 8, run, catch and bat with his teammates on a practice field at Roland Avenue and Northern Parkway.
But the parents were colder than their pumped-up kids, who could not have cared less about the weather.
"Let's see you run it out," Coach Mark Maloney, of Homeland, exhorted Braeden "Brady" Daniels, 7, as the players lined up to run as fast as they could during warmup exercises. "Dig, dig, dig. Go, go, go!"
"C'mon, Brady, all the way," yelled his father, Patrick Daniels, of Bellona-Gittings, an English teacher and debate coach at City College High School.
"We're doing drills," Braeden explained. "I like running."
When asked whether he would like to be a ball player when he grows up, Braeden thought for a moment.
"Maybe," he said. "Or an artist."
Much of the region's heart this spring is with the up-and-coming Orioles. But in North Baltimore, adrenaline is in the air as the Roland Park Baseball Leagues, for 700 players ranging in age from 5 to 15, prepares to start its 64th season March 28.
"We don't really look to change a whole lot," said Ken Rice, of Roland Park, who is starting his second year as league commissioner. "It's been a successful formula for 63 years."
TeeBall to teens
The organization has 64 teams in various age categories, including the TeeBall League for ages 5-6, the International League for ages 7-8, the National League for ages 9-10, the American League for ages 11-12, a Teen League for ages 13-15, and seven travel teams. The National, American and Teen Leagues have playoffs and championships after the regular season.
There's also an affiliated girls' softball team at Roland Park Elementary/Middle, as well as a "fall ball" developmental league.
Teams play mostly on fields behind Roland Park Elementary/Middle, at Gilman School, on the Seminary field at Northern Parkway and Roland Avenue, and on several fields in Wyman Park. Gilman is not being used this year, because of construction work, and for the first time, opening day ceremonies will be held at Roland Park Elementary/Middle instead of Gilman, Rice said.
The league is in discussion with Baltimore City government and with the Mount Washington Improvement Association about using one of the city-owned fields on Rodgers Avenue, near Springwell Senior Living, as a home field, and starting a $150,000 fundraising initiative, Rice said.
Each team in the organization has its own uniform and a financial sponsor, including Keswick Multi-Care Center, the Eddie's of Roland Park markets, Whole Foods, Ripken Baseball, Springwell Senior Living in Mount Washington, Waldorf School of Baltimore in Coldspring-Newtown and the Roland Park Bagel Company.
Founded in 1952 as the Roland Park Midget League, the organization is thriving, buoyed by the enthusiasm of parents, coaches and administrators. No one is paid, except longtime league secretary Louise Macsherry, who receives a stipend.
Leagues operation costs run about $50,000 a year for general expenses and maintenance of fields, defrayed by registration fees of $125 per player, with a $25 discount for each additional child in a family, Rice said. There's also a Get In The Game scholarship fund for families that can't afford the fee. People can contribute to the fund when they register their children for the league, Rice said.
"Everybody brings their own gloves," Rice said.
The organization participates in a Little League Day at Orioles Park in Camden Yards, this year April 26, when youth leagues around the area get tickets to an Orioles game and players can mingle with Orioles team members. This year's event is April 26, and the league is getting 350 tickets from the O's, Rice said.
The organization sponsors baseball clinics at local recreation leagues as part of its community outreach efforts, and a Sandlot Day in May, when coaches sit in the stands and players become the coaches and set the lineups, in an effort to teach them leadership skills and teamwork. Rice said some of the coaches are hard-pressed to sit on their hands and not kibitz.
In essence, the league runs on people power.
"I think people just have great feelings about it," Rice said. "I think a lot of it is the tradition and how it has carried on."
"It's the love of baseball," said City College teacher Daniels, father of Pirates team member Brady. Daniels plays baseball with other teachers in an adult league.
"It's fun," said Maloney, the Pirates coach and a home-based digital designer, whose son, Bennett, also plays for the team. "When the kids are having fun, I'm having fun," he said.
And he noted, "It doesn't hurt that the Orioles are good. The kids are interested now."
"Baseball is an old sport, the sport my grandfather introduced me to," said Derrick Chase, of Guilford, watching his son, Masiah, 7, practice with the Pirates. "So, I'm passing it on to him."
No one is looking forward to the season more than the league's matriarch, Macsherry, who has been secretary for 45 years. Macsherry Field at Roland Park Elementary/Middle is named for her and her house in Roland Park is a staging area for boxes of baseballs and other equipment.
"My front porch usually looks like a warehouse," she said.
Macsherry joined the group in 1970, when her son, Charles, began playing.
"When I started, there were seven teams and five of them had sponsors," she recalled.
Three generations of Macsherry's family are involved in the organization. Her grandson, Christian Macsherry, 11, plays for the Cavaliers of the American League, one of the oldest teams, and her daughter, Caroline Macsherry Mapp, Christian's aunt, helps run the league.
Mapp, 43, now a Lutherville resident, grew up in Roland Park and was one of the few girls to play baseball in the league at the time. She played for the Kings and the Tigers. She still enjoys being involved, even though her own children prefer soccer and lacrosse to baseball.
"I have a love for the league," Mapp said.
"It's just part of my family," said her mother. "I can't imagine giving it up."
Former commissioner Mark Hyman, of North Roland Park, now is assistant coach of the Senators in the American League. The head coach of the team is his son, Ben Hyman, 26, who grew up playing for the Barons in the International League, the Mustangs in the National League and the Jets in the American League.
Ben Hyman marvels at how the organization has grown.
"There's now a teen league and a TeeBall league, neither of which existed when I was playing," he said.
Ben Hyman, who grew up in Mount Washington, has moved away from North Baltimore, to Otterbein, near the Inner Harbor, and is executive director of the nonprofit Pigtown Main Street program in southeast Baltimore. But he still finds time for the Roland Park Baseball Leagues.
"It's personal for me," he said. "It was a really important part of my childhood — and it's an opportunity to coach with my dad."