- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — As District Mayor Anthony A. Williams and a large collection of city officials yesterday headed here for the first official game of the Washington Nationals, a hearty boo could be heard inside their bus as they passed Baltimore’s Camden Yards.

Less than three hours later and beneath the glorious April sunshine, Williams and his staff shook off their disdain for Peter Angelos, Orioles owner and longtime opponent of Washington-area baseball. Yesterday was simply about celebrating the Nationals’ inaugural game, savoring every moment of the day and the years of work needed to create it.

No matter that the Nationals were drubbed 8-4 by the Phillies. Major League Baseball again counts Washington as one of its own, and the District’s first fan did little to contain his joy.

“This is a tremendous day for Washington. This is a dream come true for the entire city,” said Williams, who spent several innings in a luxury suite before sitting along the third-base side with students from Archbishop Carroll High School. “You look around and see why we did what we did. It’s very gratifying.”

Williams, not prone to dramatic gestures, pumped his fist after the first pitch of the game to center fielder Brad Wilkerson and then sought out high-fives after each Nationals run.

The trip to Citizens Bank Park for Williams — joined by D.C. Council members Jack Evans and Vincent Orange and several executives with the D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission — essentially represented a political victory lap. Williams was repeatedly stopped by Washington-area fans offering congratulations and seeking autographs, hugs and keepsake photographs.

Even the Phillie Phanatic kneeled down and kissed Williams’ feet. Some Phillies fans were not as gracious, yelling out insults to a pregame party conducted by Williams and the Phillies for about 250 local fans, business leaders and government staffers.

But nowhere in the conversation was the dark night of Dec. 14, when the Nationals’ stay in Washington nearly came to crashing halt less than three months after MLB decided to relocate the Montreal Expos to the District. About 10:30 p.m. that evening, D.C. Council chairman Linda Cropp introduced an amendment to financing legislation for a new ballpark in Southeast mandating at least half of construction costs be funded with private dollars.

The amendment no longer guaranteed MLB a new stadium for the Nationals, and MLB commissioner Bud Selig responded by suspending all Nationals business activities until the poison-bill language in the stadium bill was removed a week later.

“That night is gone, long gone from my memory,” Evans said. “This is absolutely great. It’s Opening Day. The sun shining. And we’re here. It’s real. This is the fulfillment of this entire exercise.”

Early in yesterday’s contest, Philadelphia Mayor John Street greeted Williams and the council members and offered his support to hang tough against stadium opponents as the District seeks to develop the Nationals’ planned ballpark near the Anacostia Waterfront. Similar to Williams, Street received strident complaints against public-sector investment to new stadiums for the Phillies and Philadelphia Eagles.

“We would simply be less competitive as a city and a region without our teams here. It’s that simple,” Street said. “Stadiums don’t last forever, and if we didn’t step up and help make it happen for our teams, I don’t think they’d all be here.”

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