By Mark F. Gray, Staff Writer, [email protected]
In an alternate universe, Riverdale Baptist first-year baseball coach Aaron “Hercules” Graves has made a name for himself mixing beats as a national satellite radio host. But now as the leader of a famed program in Prince George’s County, he blended a group of high school and middle school players through what was supposed to be a rebuilding year into a challenger for another Metropolitan Independent School Athletic League (MISAL) championship.
For 11 years, “Hercules,” the radio personality, was one of D.C.’s most popular weekend hosts. His grind was especially tough since he would routinely finish his local show in Virginia Beach at 6:00 p.m. on Friday nights then host at WPGC-FM starting at 10:00 p.m. That’s when Grace’s balancing act began, and so did his motivation to begin changing the perception of baseball to kids and their parents in the County.
“It’s more important to just get kids into playing baseball again,” Graves told the AFRO. “We’ve got to get them and their parents to start thinking outside the stereotypical box and give them a bigger picture of the game.”
Riverdale Baptist doesn’t take a backseat to other programs when it comes to its tradition. The storied Crusaders program were ranked number one in the D.C. metropolitan area by The Washington Post in 2018. They also claimed the mythical USA Today national championship, finishing on top of the publication’s Elite 25 high school programs in the nation.
They finished 31-1 and the senior class just finished a 97-5 record over a three-season run. Riverdale Baptist was set to return nationally ranked players, including pitcher Jordan Peyton who was 8-0 with a 1.49 ERA, Trendon Craig who hit .352 and pitcher Noah Marshall, who finished 6-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2018.
However, after a series of defections to Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) teams and to other top public school programs such as Woodrow Wilson in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Conference, Graves inherited a carcass. Gone was the core of another team who left its championship mark on this baseball legacy.
There was also the shroud of controversy after coach Ryan Terrill accepted an assistant coaching job at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County. As he departed, so did most of the players at Riverdale Baptist who Terrill had recruited. There was a palpable sense amongst many in the community that after almost 40 years of success the program was doomed.
2019 marked the first season that Coach Terrill was not in the dugout leading a team onto the diamond in the stadium that bears the family name. However, that gave Graves his chance to build a program from the ground up. He was able to blend a group of kids who played for him previously through his Full Count youth baseball team with the high school veterans and things began to click after spring break.
“I’m looking to develop players that can field multiple positions with a high baseball I.Q.” Graves said. “But they have to be a student first. We are definitely the youngest team in the league.”
Riverdale Baptist didn’t field a varsity level team and played the season with only 10 players. The roster was constructed with four high school players and six middle school age players. However, the Crusaders finished the regular season 9-9-1 and went undefeated in their division.