A 1998 Washingtonian of the Year, Bruce Adams ’66 received the Kupka Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2003. In 2020, Bruce was inducted into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame and named a Hero Against Hunger by the Manna Food Center. He lives in Bethesda with his wife, Peggy Engel, a journalist and playwright. Peggy and Bruce have two grown children and a seven-month-old granddaughter.
On Sunday afternoon January 26, 2020, I was sitting in Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana watching the Maryland Terps play the Indiana Hoosiers when nearly everyone’s phone lit up with text messages. Kobe Bryant’s helicopter had crashed. With political unrest and crazy weather and transportation disasters across the globe, I was thinking 2020 wasn’t shaping up to be a good year. Little did I know.
One year into retirement after a dozen years as Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s director of community partnerships, Peggy and I had plans for some great trips – Spring Training in Florida, the new Texas Rangers ballpark, a wedding in Memphis, SEC baseball @ LSU, my fiftieth college reunion, a Smithsonian tour I had agreed to lead featuring baseball in North Carolina, and maybe Premier League football in England and a visit to Montgomery County’s Sister City in India.
We made it to Sarasota in late February, but then one by one every other trip was cancelled. By mid-March, I realized we were in for a long quarantine. I discovered Zoom and was able to continue the leadership program I have been running at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School for the last 25 years. Current County Executive Marc Elrich had asked me to do a strategic plan for our Montgomery Sister Cities program I had started at the initiative of County Executive Leggett. It turned out a strategic planning process was just the right project for a Sister Cities program during a lockdown when people could not travel.
I had one other big project planned for 2020. In 1998, John Ourisman ’71 and I founded the Bethesda Community Base Ball Club. We built Shirley Povich Field, named in honor of the great Washington Post sports journalist and Landon parent. We started a summer college team named the Bethesda Big Train in honor of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson. Top college players come from across the country to Bethesda to play championship caliber baseball each June and July. And in our first thirteen years we raised $600,000 to improve youth baseball and softball fields in Montgomery County and Anacostia.
In 2012, after a few years trying to run the Big Train organization while holding a full-time job, I handed the reins of the organization over to BCC Baseball. When I retired, BCC Baseball asked if I was interested in taking it back. To figure out if that made sense, I met with two longtime supporters of Big Train baseball. The first told me I would be “crazy” to take it back. At 72, he said, it made no sense to take on the responsibilities of a small nonprofit. I should enjoy my retirement. The second said this was a fabulous idea that would invigorate me in my retirement. I tell people they were both right.
By mid-March, we realized the world had turned upside down. But I had given myself nine months to get organized. I had agreed to retake stewardship in September, after the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League season had ended. I had time to reincorporate, build a board, and raise some seed money. I thought I was not in such a tough spot until BCC Baseball told me if there wasn’t going to be a 2020 season, they were giving it back to me June 1.
So, I was reestablishing our community nonprofit in the middle of a global health pandemic and an international economic meltdown and I had no games which meant no ticket revenue, no corporate sponsors, no picnics, and no money from summer camp. I had been warned this was crazy, but now this seemed crazy on steroids.
Fortunately, I had recruited former Landon development director Dick Walker as part of my brain trust to help me reincorporate, build a board, and figure out how to thrive or at least survive in a world turned upside down. We were able to hold one socially distanced in person meeting of the brain trust in mid-March before moving to the Zoom world we all now live in.
I tell my high school leadership students the ability to adapt to changing and difficult situations is the mark of a successful leader. I signed the transfer papers May 31, we acquired the bigtrain.tv domain name, and we held a virtual NOpening Night at Povich Field with no players and no fans on June 5. Over the next ten weeks, to fill the baseball void of our fans, our general manager and a crew of sports journalism interns produced thirty hours of video content on bigtrain.tv and five online magazine format Big Train Beacons. We honored five Big Train Community Heroes and donated $2,500 to the Manna Food Center. In the Fall, we organized four virtual Big Train Base Ball & Holiday Auction events and donated $1,400 to Nourishing Bethesda. In our first seven months, with the support of such Landon stalwarts as Maury Povich ’57, John Ourisman ’71, and Skip Davis ’71 and hundreds of other Big Train fans, we were able to raise $120,000 to put us in a strong position moving into 2021. As Walt Disney said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”
We don’t yet know what the 2021 season might look like, but I believe sports will be a leading indicator that our nation is returning to normalcy. More than ever, we all need a place to come together and enjoy our sense of community. One of my proudest moments over these last two decades was when John Ourisman reported a friend told him: “John, when I come to Povich Field, I feel like I live in a small town.” With sixteen Big Train alumni making it to the major leagues, our motto is “Small town charm, Big League talent.”
If your family or your business, faith congregation or community organization would be interested in joining us as we bring the fun back to Povich Field this summer, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check us out at www.bigtrain.org. I look forward to welcoming you to Povich Field this summer.