- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

Some say the first sign of spring is when the robins finally show up and begin chirping in your front yard. Others say it is when you see Vees of Canadian geese flying north.

For me, though, it is when Major League Baseball teams break their training camps and head for their hometowns. When I first started following the sport, there were 16 teams, all in the Northeast and Midwest. In those days, we would say, when the training camps closed, the teams were heading north from Florida and Arizona.

One of those teams was the Washington Senators. I grew up with the jingle, “Washington: First in war, first in peace and last in the American League.” Despite the season-long misery of being a Senators’ fan — a misery perfectly captured in the book and musical “Damn Yankees” — along with thousands of others I remained a devoted fan, only to be betrayed first by Calvin Griffith and then by Bob Short.

But suddenly truth, virtue and justice have prevailed and patience has been rewarded: Washington’s own Major League team is one of those heading home.

Today, for the first time in more than 30 years, a Washington Major League pitcher will stride to the mound and throw to a Major League hitter. Behind the plate will be a Major League catcher, though it will only be an exhibition game. After, the Nationals will hit the road to open the regular season.

Even an exhibition game will be a dream come true. I had almost given up ever being able to write this column. For years, at the start of each baseball season I would write a lament on the lack of the national pastime in the nation’s capital.

Annually, I would list the blessings a Major League team would bring to the area. I noted there is no better glue to unite a diverse area through the sweltering days of summer than a common interest in the ebb and flow of our own baseball team.

In a market as big as this area, overwhelming success on the playing field would not even be necessary for financial success, so long as the team played hard and reached a competitive level — although making the playoffs really would be nice. And that’s the point. A baseball diamond really is a field of dreams.

Of course, there are villains in the long saga of keeping baseball out of Washington. All but one have reformed, at least on this.

With Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig at the head of the line, Major League Baseball’s hierarchy has made the conversion, even the most mindless of the owners — except for the guy just up Interstate 95.

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, after years of leading the fight to keep the capital without baseball, only to be defeated in the end, is doing his best to strangle the infant franchise as soon as possible after its birth.

His weapon is control of the television market throughout the area. And with the new deal Mr. Angelos has made with Major League Baseball, he won control of the regional television network that will broadcast Nationals’ games. He believes he now has his hands around the team’s neck.

Major League Baseball owns the Nationals and hopes to get a high price for the team, recouping costly losses from the team’s dying last years in Montreal, and even making a profit.

With this TV deal, it may never happen. No one will pay top price for something where success depends on the good will of a person who has never shown any good will. And the deal may or may not have enough financial protections for the Nationals.

I used to point out that each time a Washington-area fan bought a ticket for an Orioles game it was a vote against baseball here. But I would go on to say that, after Washington got its own team, I would start going to see the Orioles because I grew up as American League fan. I still have my favorites in that league I would pay to see.

That’s no longer the case. If I feel an overwhelming urge to see AL action, I will skip Baltimore and go on to New York.

With his mad dog tactics, Mr. Angelos has killed the last residue of area fans’ support for the Orioles and pushed me from scorn and disgust to complete contempt and disdain. As long as it’s the Angelos Orioles, I will never set foot in his stadium. Baltimore deserves better.

Still, I won’t let such a greedy ogre rob me of my joy.

Baseball is back. The Major Leagues are whole again. And the area’s young people will discover what we older folks have always known: There is not better way to spend a summer than living and dying with your own baseball team.

Long live the Washington Nationals.

Stroube Smith is a copy editor for The Washington Times and a free-lance writer.

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