Bruce Adams is thinking about cicadas. Baseball and cicadas.
With some luck, a reliable vaccine and COVID-19 in retreat, Adams and the boys and bugs of summer will all return to Shirley Povich Field next year. After an eight-year hiatus, Adams, the 73-year-old founder of Bethesda Big Train Baseball, is once again the conductor of the organization. He’s hoping to dedicate the 2021 season to the nation’s first responders and, yes, to stage an event that marks the return of Brood X, the buzzing jarflies who last swarmed here 17 years ago.
“The ‘I Ate a Cicada at Shirley Povich Field’ T-shirts will be back,” says Adams, who memorably munched one in 2004, inevitably declaring: “Tastes like chicken.”
Adams had recently finished serving four terms on the Montgomery County Council in 1998 when he and John Ourisman founded the nonprofit Bethesda Community Base Ball Club (BCBBC) with the mission to fund improvements for youth baseball and softball fields across the county. BCBBC built the 750-seat Povich Field at Cabin John Regional Park and created a new collegiate summer baseball team, Bethesda Big Train, named for Walter “Big Train” Johnson, who threw fearsome fastballs over 21 seasons for the Washington Senators before retiring in 1927 and earned a spot in the first group enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Like Johnson, Adams threw everything he had into Big Train baseball, but he eventually felt overmatched by the responsibilities of running the organization while leading former County Executive Ike Leggett’s Office of Community Partnerships, a position he held from 2007 to 2018.
With no succession plan in place at Big Train, Adams wanted to create a sustainable organization that wasn’t dependent on him. “I’m incredibly passionate about what we created here,” he says. “I always worried that [the organization] was too reliant on me, and long-term sustainability was always on my mind.”
In 2012, Adams found a willing successor parent to the BCBBC in Bethesda-Chevy Chase Baseball (BCC), which runs youth baseball programs. All he had to do was let go.
“He agonized about the decision,” says Leggett. “Bruce was torn between his two great passions, and it was too difficult to do both. Personally, I would have been very disappointed if he’d left the county—but I wasn’t going to tell him that.”
Yet, just because Adams was out at Big Train didn’t mean he was out of the game.
“Founders are very difficult people,” he says with a laugh, “and I among them.” When one is present at the creation, chances are you may nitpick changes that your successors make. For one, Adams disliked the ballpark music playlist chosen by the new guys. Decidedly old school, Adams prefers Motown and the occasional baseball-themed song to hip-hop and R&B.
In the fall of 2019, retired from his county job, Adams approached BCC chief Doug Cashmere about helping with Big Train. “Do you want it back?” Cashmere asked. Adams demurred, but the more he thought about it, the more excited he became. “I was hooked,” he says. The plan was for him to revive the BCBBC and take over in the fall of 2020.
Trying to ward off buyer’s remorse, Adams sought guidance from two close friends (his family had already given him a thumbs-up). One told him he was crazy to even consider the idea; the other said the gig would reinvigorate him in retirement. “They both were right,” he says. “Restarting a nonprofit in the middle of a worldwide health pandemic is probably not the best move for someone in their 70s.”
When COVID-19 forced cancellation of the 2020 season, Adams assumed stewardship of the team in June instead of in the post-season fall. He had two goals for the fallow season—keep baseball fans interested and raise money to support Big Train—which he meshed together by staging a series of fundraising events. Losing one season to the virus was bad enough; losing a second season “would really hurt us,” says Adams. The so-called “BIG susTRAINability” campaign yielded $70,000, giving Big Train a ticket to ride next spring—pandemic permitting.
So, yes, baseball and cicadas are on his mind as it’s deja vu all over again for Bruce Adams. Famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald once declared there are no second acts in American lives. Obviously, he never met the man who drives the Big Train.