- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2005

MIAMI. - There’s usually not a lot of politics in a baseball clubhouse. There may be baseball politics, but the sort of issues debated on the nation’s airwaves every day are not often topics of interest.

Yesterday the hottest discussion taking place in the Florida Marlins clubhouse was whether or not a dog who ran in the third race at Hollywood Greyhound Track could legitimately be named “Jeff Conine.”

“Can they do that?” the Marlins outfielder asked when I showed him the program, which then was passed around the clubhouse and kicked off a debate about the legalities of naming racing dogs after ballplayers.

He didn’t pay off, by the way, at least for me. I had Jeff Conine in the quinella, and he finished third.

However, in Washington, everything is politics, and the game will not be immune from that. For proof, just look at the efforts of D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to get a sign at RFK Stadium calling for District residents to have full voting representation in Congress.

With the introduction of the Washington Nationals to baseball, players may find themselves in the middle of more than a dog track debate. Carlos Delgado may discover that.

The Marlins’ All-Star first baseman has taken a controversial political stand by his refusal for the past two seasons to stand during the playing in the seventh-inning stretch of “God Bless America,” which began in ballparks after September11 and has continued in some form or another since then.

Delgado has taken this stand because he did not support the Iraq war and did not like the use of the song to promote politics in baseball. He managed to avoid dealing with it at home games for the past two seasons because he played for Toronto. But today’s series finale against the Nationals will be the first time Delgado’s position will be the focus of a home game. The Marlins play the song only on Sundays and holidays and will do so today, according to club officials.

Delgado did not want to discuss his political stance before last night’s game against Washington. “I don’t really want to answer those questions,” he said, politely and respectfully.

But if he is true to his word, he will not take his place alongside his teammates at the top of the Marlins’ dugout steps when “God Bless America” is played. He said at the press conference shortly after he signed his four-year, $52million contract with Florida that he intended to continue his refusal.

“The reason why I didn’t stand for ‘God Bless America’ was because I didn’t like the way they tied ‘God Bless America’ and 9/11 to the war in Iraq in baseball,” Delgado told reporters. “I say God bless America, God bless Miami, God bless Puerto Rico and all countries until there is peace in the world.”

There is not always peace, though, when Delgado has gone into other ballparks. At Yankee Stadium, where he was jeered, they play the song every game, and it has actually been a source of controversy during postseason games when the Yankees bring in Irish tenor Ronan Tynan to sing the extended version of the song — keeping the opposing pitcher in the dugout longer.

It will be interesting to see how Delgado is received in the nation’s capital. The Nationals will be playing “God Bless America” only on special occasions, according to club officials. One of those special occasions likely will be Labor Day, when the Marlins play the Nationals in a day game at RFK Stadium.

Patriotism — and how it is displayed — stirs all sorts of emotions in America and may stir some strong feelings in a ballpark not far from the statue depicting how five American Marines and one Navy hospital corpsman raised the flag on the island of Iwo Jima after a fierce World War II battle.

The ballpark, though, also is close to the National Archives, where the Bill of Rights is on display.

“I wouldn’t call it politics, because I hate politics,” Delgado told reporters when explaining his position.

Then he may not be crazy about Washington, where there is no dog racing, but politics are everywhere.

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