Frank Mann Field
Review by Gary
Frank Mann Field is the former home of the Alexandria Dukes, the class-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had the misfortune (or privilege) of playing here for SIX years. Built in 1978 and christened Municipal Stadium at Four Mile Run, this Carolina League affiliate enjoyed its best season in 1982 by winning the league championship, which was quite the accomplishment considering where they played. Future major-leaguer Joe Orsulak was part of that team and, in 1983, a player named Roberto (Bobby) Bonilla made a stop here on his way to the Pirates.
Alexandria mayor and potato chip magnate Frank Mann was the man instrumental in bringing professional baseball back to the Washington DC area for the first time since 1971. The field was renamed for him long after the team relocated to their new digs in Woodbridge, VA to become the Prince William Pirates. Now the Potomac Nationals, they must have been overjoyed to move into their relatively luxurious new home, Davis Ford Park, known today as Pfitzner Stadium.
I was told of the existence of Frank Mann Field and the Dukes by my friend and colleague, Susan H. She and her husband, Dave, attended Dukes games when they lived across the street from the park. She told me that the Dukes primary reason for leaving was that alcohol sales were prohibited as the field was located on the grounds of an elementary school. The field is still in use today as the home of the Alexandria Aces of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. I decided I needed to see for myself.
Upon arriving at the field, we were greeted by two gentlemen, John and Bob (or Bob and John, as they joked), who graciously answered my questions and told me tales about the Dukes and the ballpark where they once played. Former major leaguers would come to the stadium as barnstormers and fans could pay to bat against the likes of Bob Feller. Concessions were sold from the windows of one of the school classrooms right behind home plate. (Note: there are many baseball-sized divots in the school’s exterior stucco wall from foul balls that clear the 12-foot backstop fence!). John recalled that the one of the Dukes’ game promotions was “Broken Bat Night” that took place late in the season when enough bat debris was accumulated to give out to the throngs of fans.
Other than the playing surface, only the two remodeled concrete dugouts and rebuilt raised wooden press box remind locals of the bygone days. Tall and long metal bleachers that once ran down both foul lines have been replaced by smaller 20 foot wide aluminum stands on either side of the press box, from which the stadium announcer and radio broadcasts emanate. The concession stand is a folding table that does a mean business for Aces fans and the players as well. Fans who retrieve foul balls are asked to bring them to the concession table to redeem for Twizzlers or lollipops. The fans take turns getting the balls as there were no kids running to battle one another for such a prize.
The ballpark stands alongside Four Mile Run and its adjoining jogging trail, offering distant views of the high-rise buildings of Crystal City, VA beyond the right field fence. The field is in excellent condition with major league proportioned fences, but as a minor league park, it must have inspired the players to try a little harder to get promoted back in the day. Thanks to John, Bob, Dave and Susan for the great info! I give Frank Mann’s Field half a dog and it’s fans a full “Frank” for their great memories and for Frank Mann himself, who planted the seed to bring big-league baseball back to DC!
A distant relation of my friend actually owns shares in the Dukes. Could she be sitting on a goldmine if these shares transferred to the current Potomac Nationals?