Top Ten Thursdays, a weekly show that highlights the top 10 games in Bethesda Big Train history, as voted on by team historian Bill Hickman, manager Sal Colangelo and founder Bruce Adams. The countdown started with a look back at the 11th through 25th greatest games in team history
Top Ten Thursdays Host Alex Drain, with the help of Colangelo and various guests, will break down each game, as those involved discuss what they remember and the significance of each contest. Each episode will serve as a flashback to classic moments in Big Train history, in lieu of actual games during the 2020 summer.
Today we look at Game #3, from June 4, 1999 against the Arlington Senators.
When the Bethesda Big Train began its journey as a new-born franchise, it needed to start off on the right foot to set the tone for years to come. The result of its first game would foreshadow the winning mentality that the Big Train carries to this day.
An early June 1999 matchup saw the work of team founder Bruce Adams and many others come to fruition. Bethesda joined the Clark Griffith Collegiate Baseball League, where it would debut its team and Shirley Povich Field.
Its first opponent would be the Arlington Senators, who were the reigning Clark Griffith League champions and three-time AAABA champions. It would be a tough task for the Big Train, but a good measuring stick to see where the team stood as it began its early stages of development.
“June 4, 1999, was just such an exciting day,” Adams said. “We had worked for two years. We created the Bethesda Community Baseball Club. We had gotten permission to put a team — the Bethesda Big Train — into the Clark Griffith League … Everything was so perfect.”
For Sal Colangelo, now the Big Train’s manager, the opportunity to be on the team’s initial coaching staff came by chance. While walking around the Westfield Montgomery mall, near Povich Field, he ran into soon-to-be manager Derek Hacopian. After a brief conversation where Hacopian discussed a new baseball team being formed, he offered Colangelo the opportunity to coach. He’d take the offer, and after ingraining himself in the organization and sharing the same goals for the franchise as Adams, Colangelo would become a cornerstone in Bethesda’s operation.
What was important for the Big Train starting successfully was forming a team that would compete from the start. One player that sought the opportunity of being a part of the inaugural squad was Matt Swope (Maryland), whose interest rose at the thought of remaining in his home state for the summer.
“I was just interested in kind of, at least at that point, in staying at home,” Swope said. “I love the area. My parents actually just moved 10 minutes from the field … I just thought it was a great opportunity, and one of my best friends on the team who was actually a really good player was Chuck Easter … We were absolutely loaded on that team.”
Swope said the rivalry with the Senators began with that first game, and it was an immediate battle from the first pitch. In front of a packed Shirley Povich Field, the Bethesda community came in support to see its new team make a name for itself in commanding fashion.
“That night, it was a sell-out crowd. In fact, it was a standing-room only crowd that whole season,” Big Train fan and volunteer John Daniel said. “There was so much excitement about having a summer team right there in Bethesda. There were plenty of games where we were sold out.”
The game began with temperatures in the mid-80s, but the Bethesda bats came out just as hot. Hacopian’s team plated five runs in the bottom of the first, immediately stunning one of the best teams in the country. The Senators pulled its starting pitcher after two outs, showing how much pressure the Big Train put on the star-studded team from northern Virginia.
Pitching wasn’t an issue for the Big Train as Kyle Sparkman (Middle Tennessee State) tossed eight innings and gave up just two runs. In the late innings, Bethesda increased its lead to 7-2, which would finish as the final score, and the first victory in Big Train history.
The win let fans and players know that the Big Train were serious contenders, but the impressive debut would also prove to be a glimpse for the future of the franchise. Since then, Bethesda has earned 11 regular season championships, nine league championships and one national championship.
The night was special. It was the beginning of Bethesda’s home team — one that the community could rally around and support. It was an aura that was felt by those present at Shirley Povich Field that night, and it hasn’t gone away since then.
“I was just playing catch in front of the dugout and there were over 1,000 people there, I think that in itself made me feel special and some type of way when I was 18 years old,” Swope, who is now an assistant coach at Maryland, said. “I did realize in that moment how special it was. The fanfare and just the community aspect was something I probably will never forget.”
Be sure to stay tuned to bigtrain.tv for more content and weekly shows. This Thursday, Drain will highlight Game #2.