I spent Sunday afternoon at the Loudoun Hounds inaugural FanFest at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn, Va. The Hounds don't actually begin play until 2012 in the independent Atlantic League, but they wanted to get a head start on immersing Loudoun County in some professional baseball.
They had a terrific lineup of autograph guests: Frank Howard, Boog Powell, Cecil Fielder, Scott McGregor, Otis Nixon, Tommy John, Tippy Martinez, Mike Colangelo, Chris Hoiles, Mike Young, Dick Such, Ron Hansen, Ryan Minor, Ellie Rodriguez and my wife's all-time favorite player, Bobby Richardson. The place was jumping all afternoon, with a crowd of more than 7,000 throughout the day.
Nationals' Assistant GM Brian Minnitti was on hand, and spoke to the fans on how the major leagues appreciate the role independent baseball plays in keeping players playing, inasmuch as there are players who sometimes "slip through the cracks" of organized ball. There are a number of major leaguers today who got their start in one of the independent leagues.
Chatting with Tommy John - no, he doesn't get a royalty when a pitcher gets the surgery that bears his name - I found that, like many of his contemporaries, he doesn't agree with the way young pitchers are coddled these days. "Dr. Jim Andrews did a study," Tommy explained, referencing the noted sports medicine surgeon from Alabama, "that shows that the maximum number of pitches a 12-year-old should throw every fifth day in little league is 85. You're gonna tell me that a 22-to-35-year-old man can only throw another 15?" The other ex-pitchers in attendance - McGregor, Martinez and Such, all of whom have been pitching coaches or still are - were mostly in agreement.
Even Frank Howard weighed in on the subject. "I don't have a problem with counting pitches and being very careful with young arms," he said, "but I'd like to see pitchers in the minors go every fourth day, since they play a lot of those doubleheaders with seven inning games." Hondo believes the extra work in the minors might leave those young arms less susceptible to stress once they make the major leagues.
The Loudoun Hounds seemed primed for success, which can only be a good thing for the Nationals. The more fans in the area are exposed to the game on any level, the more baseball-conscious the region will become. There was no shortage of Nats' regalia in evidence at Stone Bridge High School, and I'm guessing you'll see some Hounds' apparel at Nats' Park this season.
NatsFest is set for the afternoon and evening of March 30, the day before the opener. I'll be there with some pieces of Washington baseball history.