- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

And there used to be a ballpark

Where the field was warm and green.

And the people played their silly games

With a joy I’ve never seen.

Frank Sinatra, 1973.

There’s another Sinatra song that describes exactly how I felt on the momentous, memorable, marvelous evening of April 14, 2005, at RFK Stadium: ‘I Had the Craziest Dream in the World Last Night.’

I saw a baseball team representing Washington take the field — and a winning team at that.

I saw it playing in the National League, where the designated hitter is treated as the abomination it is.

I saw a throng of 45,000 gathered in a 44-year-old stadium to welcome the national pastime back to the nation’s capital after 34 years.

I saw the president of the United States throw out the first ball, and I forgave him for being a former majority owner of the Rangers — the franchise Bob Short swiped from us and plunked down in the unlikely hamlet of Arlington, Texas, in the awful autumn of 1971.

I saw all this, and I still don’t believe it.

I had the craziest dream in the world last night.

Surely, Bud Selig or Linda Cropp would dash onto the field any minute, hold up a hand and shout, ?Hold it — this is all a mistake! The Expos are supposed to be playing in Montreal or San Juan or Las Vegas or Norfolk.?

But no. Bud Selig and Linda Cropp remained placidly in their mezzanine seats as if they had planned all along for baseball to be played again in the District of Columbia, and it was fun to imagine Cropp’s ears were still burning from the boatload of boos when she was introduced along with other members of the D.C. Council.

Then Joe Grzenda, who threw the last pitch on the premises for the Senators, handed the same ball to President Bush, whose ceremonial toss to Nationals catcher Brian Schneider was high and outside — ?just like Tomo Ohka yesterday against Atlanta,? a man in the press box cracked.

Now the new Nationals were lining up along the third-base line and, moments later, old Senators like Frank Howard, Chuck Hinton, Roy Sievers, Mickey Vernon and Dick Bosman were trotting out to their old positions — plumper and grayer but still able to elicit roars from those in attendance with l-o-n-g memories.

Just when you thought the paying customers surely had screamed themselves hoarse, the Nationals took the field and another din ensued. At 7:06, Livan Hernandez delivered the first official major league pitch in Washington since Richard Nixon’s third year as president, and the people yowled again. When leadoff hitter Craig Counsell of the Diamondbacks succumbed to a called third strike on Hernandez’s fourth offering, the cheers started anew, and the feeling was that they might ring out over the nearby Anacostia River all night — and possibly all season.

Early arrivals who eschewed tailgating in favor of eyeballing batting practice were treated to the earliest possible rendition of the national anthem when singer Renee Fleming warmed up her pipes at 4:42 p.m., more than two hours in advance. When she tried the real thing, there was dismay that many in the crowd chose to bellow ?O!? at the appropriate — make that in appropriate — junction.

That sort of thing works fine at an Orioles game, but it clearly has no place 40 miles down the road. Next thing you know, they’ll be peddling crabcakes and National Boh at the RFK concession stands.

On hand early were many of the names associated with earlier Washington franchises, including P.A. announcer Charlie Brotman and broadcasters Bob Wolff and Ron Menchine.

?Look at Bob!? an old-timer exclaimed of Wolff, now 84 and still working on a Long Island cable station. ?I wonder if Arch McDonald will be here, too.?

Wolff’s long-time broadcasting partner couldn’t make it, but for a very good reason. McDonald died in 1959.

Pretty soon, Hinton wandered onto the field asking, ?Where are all the other old players? I’m the only one out here.? This could have been deemed momentarily proper because Hinton was the only man to put in a .300 season (.310 in 1962) during the expansion Senators’ 11 mostly miserable years.

Finally, though, everybody who was anybody showed up at RFK for one of the most exhilarating evenings ever for this town’s sporting partisans. It was glorious, gorgeous and heart-rending, all wrapped up in one big emotional package.

And it still seems unreal.

Like I say, I had the craziest dream in the world last night.

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