Bruce Adams: There Is Life After Politics

Bruce Adams: There Is Life After Politics

When Bruce Adams was president of the Montgomery County Council, it was easy to articulate his job title, if not the complete list of duties.

Eight years since elected office, it has become a challenge to name everything Adams does in a day's work. President of two nonprofit organizations, including the Bethesda Big Train baseball team's parent organization, Adams addresses issues on every level.

During game-night at Povich Field in July, Adams brought carpenters tools to fix the outfield scoreboard. He watered plants in the stands. He was in perpetual motion during the game, selling raffle tickets, bringing children out to participate in between-inning contests, tossing some gopher pitches for the home run derby and shaking off a line drive that belted him in the leg.

"Bruce is into everything, really; it's one of his personality attributes," said Alex Thompson, assistant general manager for the Big Train. "He doesn't like to sit still."

Beyond Povich Field's function as a sports facility, it is a culmination of Adams' political and community philosophy. Adams moved on after losing a 1994 primary election for County Executive (to Doug Duncan) and in the years since, has found more ways to serve the community.

"THREE THINGS REALLY MOTIVATED him," said Councilman Isiah Leggett (D-At large), who served on the Council with Adams through Adams' two terms. "His passion for public service, children and his passion for baseball. This is something that summarizes all these things. … He provides something to the public we all can enjoy."

As a Big Train game unfolds, the community element grows more apparent with each inning. Local volunteers contribute as ushers, work the hand-operated scoreboard in the outfield or don the costume of Homer the team mascot. Children attending the game can take garbage bags and win a prize in a "treasure-for-trash" bargain after picking up litter around the ballpark.

Thompson, a junior at Brandeis University and a Wootton graduate, has enjoyed a learning experience as assistant general manager for the Big Train.

"The highlight for me is the involvement, especially since this is something that I'm trying to use as a step for my career," said Thompson, who has worked at the Brandeis sports information department for two years. "Bruce gave me an opportunity to get involved with everything."

"If there ever was a civic-minded sort of guy, Bruce is that person," said Michael Denker of Potomac, CEO and partner at Hopkins & Porter Construction.

ADAMS GREW UP IN POTOMAC, and attended Landon School, graduating in 1966. He went on to Princeton University, and after graduating from Georgetown Law School in 1973, he spent most of the following decade as the research director at the national office of Common Cause. He then worked for several foundations, including the Kettering Foundation, until his election to County Council in 1986.

"When Bruce was on the Council, he had a passion for details," said Leggett. "His leadership style was one of getting people involved… You see that in this endeavor."

Adams gave up his seat on the County Council to run for County Executive, losing in the three-way primary to Doug Duncan. Adams then spent two years as professor at the University of Maryland, a senior fellow with the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership.

Adams lives in Bethesda with wife Margaret Engel and children, Emily, 15 and Hugh, 12. The family hopped in the car to visit over 100 major and minor league baseball parks in the summers of 1995 and 1996. Adams and Engel, co-authored their experience in Fodor's Baseball Vacations guide. First published in 1997, the third edition was released this year.

During these years Adams also started two nonprofits, Greater Washington and the Bethesda Community Base Ball Club (BCBC).

Greater Washington is dedicated to helping improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the D.C. area. Its mission is reflective of a frequent theme in Adams' political writing, a need for 'boundary-crossers,' those who work across the boundaries of race, income and geography to help improve a region instead of remaining in demographic pigeonholes.

It is BCBC, however, that operates hand-in-hand with the Big Train games. BCBC is dedicated to restoring baseball fields throughout the D.C. area. The organization recently spent $20,000 restoring a baseball field at Kimball Elementary School in Anacostia. The organization also sponsored maintenance of fields in Takoma Park and Wheaton in addition to the adjoining Povich fields in Cabin John Regional Park.

In the spring of 1995, Adams was asked by organizers of Bethesda-Chevy Chase Baseball to help as an assistant coach for the young league.

"You'd see the fields were terrible," said Adams on his experience during the BCCB inaugural season. The immediate view of the problem was a jolt to Adams. In office, he said, "You'd learn about things on a generic, general level, but you don't have specific knowledge about most things."

Between the early-1990s recession and rising number of students, it was classroom spending that was a priority for schools.

"Clearly the school system made a decision: forget the fields."

Adams found little interest in his early efforts to create public-private partnerships to help restore the fields locally or across boundary lines. "Bethesda was not interested in fixing up fields in Wheaton," he said.

On a baseball theme road trip that summer with his family, players on Penn League team asked Adams if he was familiar with the Shenandoah Valley League, a collegiate summer baseball league.

"I'm a total baseball fanatic, and I'd never even heard of it," said Adams. The following summer, Adams and his family went on a less distant trip, visiting Shenandoah Valley teams.

"I was thinking, 'Wow, wouldn't I love to run one of these teams,'" said Adams, but "spending the whole summer driving back and forth or Route 66 is not my idea of a fun summer."

It was not until later that summer Adams learned about the existence of the Clark Griffith League. Primarily a unit of privately sponsored Northern Virginia teams, the league had little visibility. Then-league president John Depenbrock said he was interested in expanding outside of Northern Virginia and drawing more fans.

"That became my answer to the question, 'How do I raise money for fixing up the fields?'" said Adams, who joined with John Ourisman of Ourisman Automotive, co-founders of the Big Train, breaking ground for the field in December 1998.

AN INNOVATION for Griffith League organizations, the Big Train operates on a nonprofit model. The money raised by the team's home games and summer baseball camps goes to BCBC.

Prior to the Big Train's inaugural season, Griffith League teams tended to be sponsored by private individuals.

"Somebody would write a check and pay for a team," said Adams of the previous model for Griffith League teams. "That's really risky, because there is no community basis for a team… If John Ourisman and I walked away, the team would continue."

The Big Train/BCBC model has begun catching on in the league, with the Germantown, Silver Spring/Takoma and Fauquier, Va. teams now organized as nonprofits, an encouraging sign to Adams.

"They almost copied our papers of incorporation," said Adams. "My goal is that we have five or six places like Povich Field."

Nearly $2 million in improvements to the Cabin John baseball field were required before its rededication as Povich Field in the beginning of the 1999 season. Adams said that the money was made back in the first year.

"Bruce has an infectious enthusiasm that got us going," said Michael Denker of Potomac. Since Big Train play at Povich Field began in 1999, Hopkins & Porter has donated a scoreboard, deck, dugout interiors and bullpen seating to the field.

"The seats have plaques, and we tried to sell 600 for $100 each," said Adams. "$100,000 came back from about 500 families… It was just like that. You'd ask somebody for something and they'd be incredibly generous. … This did defy a conventional wisdom that you couldn't do this in a busy place with a lot of entertainment options," said Adams.

"He has found something that this community absolutely loves: that community feel and that feeling of small-town baseball," said Thompson. "Povich Field has really become the jewel of the Griffith League."

ADAMS' TENURE on County Council is a time he remembers fondly, and he is appreciative of the boost it has given to his post-political endeavors.

"I enjoyed it, and I really had a sense of accomplishment from that experience, and I sure learned a lot," said Adams on his tenure with the Montgomery Council. "Clearly I would not have been able to do what I did here without that experience and without the contacts of the people I worked with."

However, Adams doesn't seem to be in any rush to jump back into the political ring.

"It's better to have fresh leadership," said Adams. "I think that's a plus, and so I don't feel any great urge to go out and do that… Everything drives a politician to be narrow and parochial and short-term, when what you want in a leader is someone who thinks long-term and thinks broadly and thinks collaboratively and thinks regionally… All of those things are hard to do when you have to get elected every two years or every four years."