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The Fan

Since a teenage batboy for the Washington Senators, Bill Cox has rooted for the home team

Ask Rose Haven resident Bill Cox about baseball, and he’ll tell you as many stories as you want to hear.
    You’d expect as much from this 74-year-old, as he drives a blazing red golf cart refurbished as a Washington Nationals tribute with red and white seats, chrome wheels and a Nats logo. Cox and his shiny cart make appearances in all the Rose Haven holiday parades. He lets Santa borrow it for the Christmas parade.
    Wearing his Washington Nationals jersey and baseball cap, he lights up when he talks about his days as a batboy for another D.C. team — the Washington Senators.
    A young wannabe big-leaguer, he’d hang out around the stadium, watching the games and getting to know some of the ushers, which led to meeting the bat- and ballboys. Eventually, he was invited into the dugout, where he met the equipment manager, Freddy Baxter.
    When an opening for a batboy materialized, Cox was in the right place at the right time. “No application needed,” he says. “They just put me in.”
    The batboys’ jobs were to place the bats, towels and rosin bags at the on-deck circle, while the two ballboys set out the duffel bag full of game balls after the umpires rubbed them with mud, a rosin mixture that keeps the glare off the balls. Of course, the ballboys also retrieved foul balls.
    That was in 1956, when Cox was 15. He was paid in cash each week, at $2.50 per game. “We could keep up to two balls per game for ourselves — as long as nobody saw,” he added.    
    He made more money washing players’ cars in the open area under the visitor’s dugout. Pitchers Chuck Stobbs and Pedro Ramos and catcher Clint Courtney were Cox’ regulars for car washing services.
    Ramos, also known as Pistol Pete, liked to wear cowboy attire. A Cuban native, he claimed watching the movies helped him learn English.
    Cox loved seeing the pros play close-up. He saw the great Mickey Mantle hit a home run out of the park over the left field wall. “He’s the only one I saw who could do that,” he says. “Mantle hit the homer off of Senators pitcher Chuck Stobbs.”
    Cox was also on hand for the filming of the 1958 movie Damn Yankees, starring Tab Hunter and Gwen ­Verdon. The Senators were of course playing the New York Yankees. When Roy Sievers of the Senators hit a home run, Cox was on the field to shake his hand as he came down the third base line to home plate. That day, Warner Brothers had filled one side of the grandstand with paid extras who cheered on demand.
    Cox’s hopes of becoming a big ­leaguer “got sidetracked when he discovered girls,” he said. When he turned 17, he passed up an opportunity to go to baseball school in Indiana.
    He continued to play ball in local games, often on the old baseball field on the Ellipse, across from the south side of the White House.
    “Some of the foul balls landed in the street, then bounced over the White House fence. We’d just hop over to get the balls. Nobody ever stopped us,” he said.
    That wouldn’t happen these days.
    Nor is the president a regular at the park any longer.
    Griffith Stadium was the only baseball park that boasted a presidential box. Every president from Taft, in 1911 to JFK, in 1961 threw a first pitch at Griffith Stadium. In 1956, it was Dwight Eisenhower Cox saw.
    When the losing Senators fled D.C. for Minnesota after the 1960 season, Cox transferred his allegiance to the Baltimore Orioles.
    The birth of the Washington Nationals 10 years ago brought Cox’s fan-dom full circle. He’s thrilled to be a D.C. fan again — especially as The Nats stay atop their division in the National League.