June 23, 2024

Little League Launched in Lex Park

St. Mary’s County Historical Society has published Chronicles of St. Mary’s since 1953, an unrivaled trove of diligent local historians’ work, eclectic in subject and style. The Historical Society presents excerpts from a few as an invitation to explore more of our history, the shared and the unknown. A digitized record of the Chronicles is available through the member’s portal on the website and on-site research is available to all.

We Called It Little League

History of the Kids Baseball Association (KBA)
in St. Mary’s County, MD

by Pat Woodburn of the St. Mary’s County Historical Society; excerpt from Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Summer 2019

These excerpts have been edited by the publisher

“Baseball has long been a staple of entertainment and recreation in St. Mary’s County,” writes Mr. Woodburn who goes on to tell the story of how Lexington Park helped launch youth baseball in his article excerpted here.

As far back as 1880 community baseball teams filled the newspapers in St. Mary’s County. But youth teams didn’t occur until the early 1950s when the Navy joined up with the Lexington Park Lions Club, a fraternal organization involved in the growth of the community. These institutions and a few notable individuals  “were at the heart of a youth baseball movement” throughout the county.

During World War II, “Fred H. Hendricks [was] assigned to the Piney Point Torpedo Station … [and] must have developed some warm feelings for the St. Mary’s community.  .. After being discharged from the Navy [in] 1945,” Mr. Hendricks joined the Federal Housing Administration and was assigned to Lexington Park, Maryland.

“Mr. Hendricks, as early as 1951 [was] coaching Lions sponsored youth teams. And, as early as 1952, local Navy Officials were also fully engaged as they saw organized youth baseball as a huge benefit for their Navy dependent families.” The Navy donated the land for a field at the corner of Three Notch Road and Tulagi Place and the Lions Club built the backstop.

“Today the field is entombed under a parking lot which serves the Three Notch Theater which is also adjacent to the Elmer Brown Freedom Park,” notes Mr. Woodburn.

“… [Y]outh baseball efforts in the Lexington Park community [were] buoyed by the Lions Club and especially Mr. Jack Daugherty, an emerging Lexington Park businessman who personally funded youth baseball for two years in 1953 and 1954 while serving as Lions Club president.

“… The goal of the Lions Club and Mr. Hendricks was a league dedicated to youth from age 9 to 17. . . . [I]n 1956, Hendricks’ efforts saw youth baseball and the league quickly expand to include 148 boys and spread over six teams located in Hollywood, California, Center Gardens, Lexington Park (Town Creek), Patuxent Park, and the Navy base.

“… The popularity of little league baseball took a giant leap … 500 boys were expected to sign up to play [in 1957].  . . . Mr. Hendricks was also quickly moving forward with plans to launch an umpiring school.”

St. Mary’s softball historian and St. Mary’s Historical Society member Ernie Bell recalls one such umpire,  H.K. Johnson, “as a no nonsense umpire … [known as] ‘Baseball’ Johnson.”

Mr. Bell “clearly remembers Johnson exercising his authority by ejecting Ernie [Bell] from an adult league ballgame in which Bell had argued too vehemently. Johnson had ruled Bell had trapped a flyball which Ernie knew he had caught cleanly.

“… By 1958, the league had again expanded and now included teams from Piney Point, St. Mary’s City, and Ridge.” The number of boys had reached 800.

“[H]undreds of St. Mary’s County boys in the 1950s and 1960s” played in the league. “Locals were introduced to surnames like Tiburzi, Connetti, Yocklovich, Gelrud, and Zedick, while the newcomers were mingling with Russells, Garners, Raleys, Norrises, and Ridgells. The end of World War II and the expansion of the naval base at Pax River had brought people together to meet the need to provide recreational opportunities for young people … fans would be standing three deep, hundreds of them, just to cheer on 11 and 12 year old boys who were playing for their community team …

“In a way, the [youth baseball leagues] were a reflection of the maturing of Lexington Park as a unique, emerging community. The infusion of new blood coming into St. Mary’s County was creating a new chemistry in social life.”

St. Mary’s County Historical Society is in the midst of a year of assessing how they can best share their many collected pieces of history with the community and an ever-widening audience and membership. What interests you about history? What other histories would you like to learn about?

To learn more about our shared histories, get more information about the St. Mary’s Historical Society, and to get in touch, visit its Leader member page.

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