Photo courtesy of LISPN.com
When it comes to Washington D.C. Little League baseball, only one name came to mind for well over a decade before 2009, and that was Capitol City Little League.
Cap City won the D.C. Tournament every single year from 1988 to 2008, and usually in laughable fashion. If there were any competitive match-ups, they only came from Northwest Washington Little League and very rarely. Finally, something in Northwest Washington clicked. In 2009, NWLL shocked Capitol City and won the city tournament, earning a spot in the Mid-Atlantic Tournament in Bristol, CT.
Since then, the rivalry has flourished. Northwest Washington has now won three of the last five titles and they're slight favorites for a fourth in today's D.C. Tournament championship despite Capitol City returning a handful of contributors to last season's regional semifinal appearance.
"In the heat of it all, the rivalry was not friendly," First-year Capitol City manager Brian Friel said. "It wasn't in the spirit of Little League."
In the arms race to dominate to Washington D.C. youth baseball, the two leagues turned into bitter rivals in the last few years, but with that bitterness, respect has come into play over the last year or two, and it came to a head during pool play this week.
With a 4-2 lead in the late innings this week, Capitol City's number one pitcher, Collin Bosley-Smith, was looking to shut the door on a much-needed win over NWLL. Northwest beat Cap City twice in a warmup tournament, and another loss wasn't going to be great for the confidence heading into a possible championship game. Then, one of the biggest fears of any Little League administrator, director, coach, parent, or fan can imagine came to life. A Northwest player drove an upper-60s fastball back up the middle even faster. The ball hit Bosley-Smith square in the skull and soared into left field. Bosley-Smith went down.
"It was the scariest moment I've ever experienced at a baseball field," Friel said. "The ball was hit as hard as you can hit it. It was horrible."
Immediately, a pair of physicians ran onto the field to tend to Bosley-Smith including Northwest Washington parent, and Georgetown Emergency Room doctor, Dr. Brendan Furlong. Bosley-Smith never lost consciousness, but was not in great shape. He was taken to the hospital via ambulance.
The game continued with a completely different feel for both teams. Northwest Washington rallied for a 5-4 victory, but all thoughts were with Bosley-Smith.
"It put everything in perspective right away. This was an injured child. It's so much more important than the result of a baseball game. We're all parents when its over," NWLL manager Paul Donnellan said. "So after the game, we mellowed the celebration down despite beating our rivals, because at that point we still didn't know Collin's status. It was a horrific thing to see."
Thankfully, Bosley-Smith was just fine. He was diagnosed with a concussion and stayed at the hospital for a few hours for observation, but went home that night with a serious headache. By Sunday's semifinals, he was in street clothes but in the dugout with his teammates laughing, smiling, and being a 12-year old kid. After Capitol City edged Capitol Hill Little League 4-1 in the first semifinal, Northwest Washington stopped by to check in with Bosley-Smith.
"It was miraculous to see him doing so well, and the kids wanted to do something for him," Donnellan said. "So they got him a Superman T-Shirt (because he's the 'Boy of Steel') and each player signed a Get Well card. It was good for the kids to see that he was okay and express their sympathy even in healthy competition. These two teams absolutely respect each other."
"It really meant a lot to us and the kids that Northwest would take time from the rivalry to do something like that," Friel said. "The relationship between the two leagues has been trending upward and this really bridged the gap."
Now, with Bosley-Smith still ruled "out" for the championship game, both teams need to refocus and get ready for another intense matchup with a Mid-Atlantic Tournament berth on the line. For Northwest Washington to win the title, they'll have to beat Capitol City for a fourth time this summer.
"Absolutely this is tough. We have to execute and play great baseball because how many times can you beat a good team," Donnellan said. "For us, we hope it's four."
Either way, the rivalry is alive and kicking and it's only good for baseball in the area. Both teams play travel ball with each other around the D.C. area and they've become friends off the field. It actually makes them want to beat each other more when they're on the field.
The rivalry between Northwest and Cap City isn't where it ends though. Capitol Hill Little League won the 9-10 year old D.C. Tournament two years ago, and Banneker/Satchel Paige pushed Northwest into a nerve wracking sixth inning before NWLL pulled out a 2-1 victory.
Maybe more rivalries will brew in Washington over the next 10 years. It can only be good for the state of baseball in D.C.
John Malone is the founder, writer, and editor of Little League Insider. He's a senior web editor for MSG Varsity Network in the New York metropolitan area and has covered youth and high school sports in one capacity or another since his own youth, which only gets further away each year. You can follow him on Twitter: @MSGV_Malone
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