A School for Pitch Kids: Hultzen is just one of the St. Albans hurlers to go on to baseball glory.
A School for Pitch Kids: Hultzen is just one of the St. Albans hurlers to go on to baseball glory. Credit: Photo courtesy of Virginia Athletics Media Relations

Danny Hultzen of St. Albans is now the No. 1 pitcher for the top-ranked Division I baseball team in the nation, the University of Virginia. Through this weekend, Hultzen had a career won-lost record of 30-3 at U-Va., with 334 strikeouts in 270.2 innings. He can hit, too: As a freshman, he had two hits as the ’Hoos handed Stephen Strasburg his first loss of the season in a College World Series game. He’s batting .321 this year.

According to Baseball America, Hultzen now ranks as the top amateur player in the country and “a potential top-five overall pick” in the upcoming major league draft.

Hultzen knows that when folks think of his high school, the image is more likely as a preserve of the elite (Al Gore, Gore Vidal) than as a factory for future college jocks. But he also knows there’s more to the story.

“It’s got a rep as [a nerdy] school,” Hultzen says. “But the athletic community at St. Albans is incredible.”

Sure, the place has long been a breeding ground for politicians—Evan Bayh, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Warner, Charles F. Bass, Al Gore, and Harold Ford Jr. are among the lawmakers to matriculate there.

But in what may be the surest indication of baseball’s George Will-ification, St. Albans has in recent years cranked out an incredible supply of stellar ballplayers.

And particularly, pitchers: These days, St. Albans prepares more kids for the mound than for The Hill. Hultzen is just one of five members of the school’s 2008 baseball program that are now pitching for D-I NCAA teams. That year, Hultzen was a senior on a team consistently ranked among the nation’s Top 20 prep squads.

Hultzen’s teammates included Francis Brooke, a starter at Northwestern who last year ranked second in the nation with an average of 0.71 walks per 9 innings pitched. Francis’ little brother Henry Brooke is now in the Northwestern bullpen, too. Matt Bowman, The Washington Post’s All-Met player of the year in 2009, is currently the No. 1 starter at Princeton. And Cameron Phillips is a sophomore in Lehigh’s starting rotation.

And other alums can be found in the levels below D-I. Coach Jason Larocque, who took over St. Albans baseball program in 2008, remembers Andrew Mauro as a guy who spent much of his high school career recovering from Tommy John surgery. Mauro is now the ace of the pitching staff at Dickinson College, says Larocque.

Some non-hurlers from that 2008 team also took their game to the next level: Jon Suzich played two years in the Brown outfield, and Matt Grieb plays center field and leads D-II Catholic University in home runs and several other offensive categories.

Asked to explain this bumper crop of baseball talent, Hultzen credits the coaches who ran the St. Albans program.

“Being on a successful team, even if you’re not playing, if you’re just watching, you learn the process and the dedication you need to achieve that same success,” he says. “I know I learned a lot from watching the older guys.”

The “older guys” that Hultzen refers to include at least three players from St. Albans’ class of 2006 who went on throw for D-I schools: Clay Bartlett was a four-year hurler for Columbia; Jeremiah Meiners pitched for Coastal Carolina before signing with the Houston Astros organization; and Will Krasne threw for Stanford before transferring and becoming the No. 1 starter at Rollins College.

The output is even more amazing when you consider that a typical class at the all-boys school is just 80 kids. By conference rule, St. Albans is also prohibited from recruiting for sports.

“Not only are we not allowed to recruit, but most of these guys now pitching Division I baseball came into the [St. Albans] system as little kids,” says David Baad, who coached baseball at the school for 17 years before turning the program over to Larocque three years ago. “Matt Bowman started here as a four-year-old. Francis [Brooke] came in sixth and Henry in fourth, and Danny Hultzen came in seventh grade. So we’ve really had a good run these last five years or so.”

Like all the best teachers and coaches, Baad gives credit to the kids and the work they put in. But, being a good St. Albanian, Baad also pumps up the–reputation be damned!–long and strong sporting tradition at the school.

“Have you heard about Jimmy Trimble?” Baad asks me.

I hadn’t. So Baad gives me a nutshell version of the amazing life story of his favorite St. Albans alum. And I soon find out I’m not the only guy Baad brings up Trimble to.

“Coach Baad talked about Jimmy Trimble to us a lot,” says Hultzen.

Turns out that on the mound, James Trimble III was the Danny Hultzen of his era. Or vice versa.

Trimble, who like Hultzen grew up in Bethesda, was a multi-sport superstar for the school in the early 1940s. In May 1942, Trimble hurled successive no-hitters, including a perfect game against St. James of Hagerstown. Trimble was going to be the next Bob Feller and Walter Johnson, all in one. Legend holds that Clark Griffith tried to convince Trimble to turn pro right after graduating high school in 1943—but the two instead agreed that the Washington Senators would give Trimble a $5,000 signing bonus and the kid, being a St. Albans product, would put off his baseball career until after he’d graduated from Duke.

War got in the way. Trimble joined the U.S. Marines. Military baseball was big in World War II, and Trimble starred for the 3rd Marine Division teams. He was so good his superiors would have gladly let Private Trimble serve his country by lobbing live fastballs instead of grenades.

But in letters sent back to his mom in D.C. that, Trimble wrote that he, like so many of our best and brightest in the wake of Pearl Harbor, had gone off to war to “kill Japs,” not play a game. In 1945 he volunteered for a mission to Iwo Jima. He was killed when his position was overrun by a Japanese suicide bomber.

Here’s a description of the carnage from the book Hardball on the Hill: Baseball Stories from Our Nation’s Capital: “Jimmy Trimble lay dead in the foxhole. In the breast pocket of his uniform was his wallet, containing the picture of Christine White that he always carried with him.”

White, a Wilson alum and future girlfriend of James Dean, was young Trimble’s fiancée.

Of course, we now know that another heart also beat for Trimble in D.C. when he went off to war.

Before the 1940s were out, a young writer and St. Albans alum named Gore Vidal dedicated his novel The City and the Pillar to “J.T.” Vidal confessed decades later that the initials were for the boy he called “Jimmie” Trimble. Vidal has described Trimble as the only love of his life, and in his 1995 memoir Palimpsest goes into Vidalesque detail about him and Jimmie getting to at least third base in the school’s bathroom. Trimble, of course, isn’t around to confirm or deny his alleged use of “callused hands” to grab Vidal’s naughty bits “like a baseball bat.”

Vidal has purchased a burial plot in Rock Creek Cemetery in Petworth, meaning he’ll spend eternity in the same graveyard where Trimble is interred.

The Marines, meanwhile, still have a mound of dirt with Trimble’s name on it, too: The baseball diamond in Yona, Guam, where he was stationed and played ball during the war, is called Trimble Field. President George W. Bush, whose brothers Marvin and Neil went to St. Albans, commissioned a speech hailing Trimble’s all-American goodness that was read at the field’s 2005 rededication ceremony.

Vidal’s name didn’t appear in Bush’s address.

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