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“Darn you, Cal Ripken!”

How often do you get to say that? I’m saying it a lot lately.

To wit: For the current print edition of Washington City Paper, which, coincidentally or not, is made of the very same material as the $100 bill, while the internet version is made of nothingness, I wrote about the disappearance of the Clark Griffith League. Pick up a copy, read the column, patronize the advertisers, SOS…

I’m crushed by the league’s sorry state. Clark Griffith League baseball was a seasonal institution around here my whole life, and a local version of the Cape Cod League, where the players were of college age and the bats were wood. A Clark Griffith League legend and the purest baseball man I ever met, Harry “Jake” Jacobs, lived near my boyhood home in Falls Church, and I’ve been going to a games for decades — though never as many as I told myself I will at the beginning of each summer. The talent level was always awesome — hundreds of pro ballplayers with some D.C. roots, including Yankees superstar Mark Teixiera and Boston reliever Jon Papelbon and Nats manager Jim Riggleman toiled in the federation before anybody knew who they were.

And, even better than the skills, the games of the Clark Griffith League always reeked of old school baseball. The Vienna Senators, a flagship Clark Griffith League franchise that played at Waters Field, a baseball megacomplex in Northern Virginia, always offered free admission, quaint promotions, and community involvement out the ying-yang. Hearing some little kid belt out an off-key version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch always got to me.

A few Friday nights ago I happened to be in the Shenandoah Valley region and caught a game of the New Market Rebels, one of the signature teams of the Valley Baseball League, the Western Virginia confederation for amateur ballers. I was in awe. Old guys walked through the grandstands all night selling Fifty/Fifty raffle tickets, the local dairy council gave away free cake and milk, and we got the off-key version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Oh, and I also got a great ballgame that went 11 innings before the Rebs lost.

The whole event got me totally jazzed about the Clark Griffith League’s upcoming season.

As soon as I got home I went online to get the league’s 2010 schedule, yet saw only 2009 dates listed. After some Googling and phone calls I learned that there wouldn’t be a 2010 season, and there’s no guarantee there’ll be a 2011 season, or any more seasons of Clark Griffith League ball.

Again, I’m crushed. Turns out the beginning of the end came when the Southern Maryland Cardinals jumped from the Clark Griffith League to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. That’s the third Griffith team to defect to the more Baltimore-centric Ripken in five years, and the Griffith League might not recover from this one.

In fairness to the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr. doesn’t have a close personal relationship with the league that bears his name. Originally, his family foundation licensed the name “Cal Ripken, Sr” to the wood bat league. But recently that licensing deal has been re-written and the Sr. was taken out so as to exploit the notoriety of Cal Jr. And, if you take the money, you gotta take the heat.

And while the Ripken league flourishes, now we’ve got no Clark Griffith Baseball in D.C. this summer.

Hence: “Darn you, Cal Ripken!”