Through much of the past two decades, Prince George’s County baseball teams have often headed into their respective region tournaments with perfect records and perhaps an inflated sense of self-confidence only to get a rude awakening in region finals or state semifinals.
But this spring several teams, especially in the County 3A/2A/1A league, could take their lumps early. In an effort to level the playing field, figuratively at least, Gwynn Park, Frederick Douglass and Friendly, will play the upper level teams from the County 4A League this spring, primarily Bowie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Charles H. Flowers and High Point.
While their respective win-loss records will essentially take a hit, the overall benefits could be measured in postseason success. Since the inception of the Prince George’s County championship game in 2002, pitting the two league champions, the 4A representative has won every game and most of them have been lopsided affairs.
“I think the new schedule will benefit all of the teams,” said Gwynn Park baseball coach Matt Cooke, whose team will open the season at Bowie on Friday and face Eleanor Roosevelt twice this spring. “Everyone makes the playoffs regardless of your record, so if you go 14-4 during the season or 4-14 it really doesn’t matter. The whole key is for every team to get better so that you have a chance once the playoffs start and you start facing some of the tougher teams from outside the county.”
Eleanor Roosevelt coach Andrew Capece agrees with Cooke. Capece, who sports a stellar 306-54 (.850) career mark that includes a state title in 2006, watched his Raiders capture the region title last spring only to get quickly eliminated in the state semifinals. But that has been a common theme for any county team facing non-county rivals in both leagues.
“Like we’ve talked about in the past, it doesn’t matter if you go 17-1 or 18-0 if most of your games haven’t been close,” Capece said. “We have Bowie and Flowers, Wise, Parkdale and High Point have good teams, but you don’t always get to play them twice. We’ve gone into state semifinals undefeated and got sent home right away. Playing the tougher teams will definitely benefit everybody.’
Bowie second-year coach Brian Harris also applauds the new balanced schedule. After five seasons at Laurel, Harris guided the Bulldogs to the 4A South Region final last spring only to see the squad upended by Roosevelt.
“I know when I was at Laurel, me and Matt Cooke and Andrew Capece were big on making a change to the schedule,” Harris said. “Now that I’m at Bowie, I’m glad to see it finally change. It just seems kind of a coincidence that we’re playing Gwynn Park in the first game of the season. But I know Matt is probably looking forward to playing us because the ultimate goal is for both teams to get better and the best way to do that is by playing better competition more often.”
Frederick Douglass and Henry A. Wise, cross-town rivals from Upper Marlboro, are scheduled to meet in Friday’s season opener. Roosevelt’s final two games will be at Douglass on May 5 and at Gwynn Park on May 7.
While the upper tier teams from both leagues will also get immediately acquainted this spring, so too will squads from both leagues that have typically struggled. DuVal, Suitland, Bladensburg and Oxon Hill will face Central, Fairmont Heights, Potomac and Crossland, giving all of those teams a chance to win more games and get mercy-ruled less often.
“Anytime you’re in a game that’s 25-0, it does neither team any good,” Harris said. “If you’re winning, you didn’t really get any better and if you’re on the losing end you really didn’t learn anything. In either case, the game didn’t go all seven innings. If the competition is even, not only do both teams have a chance but you get to play all seven innings and you learn how to win those close games.”