- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — Pat Malone raised both fists over his head after the first official pitch was thrown to a Washington baseball player in 34 years.

“Yeah,” he said. “This time it’s real. It took 34 years to get that out of the way.”

The game might have been in a city where sports fans are known for their lack of brotherly love, but forget the geography — baseball finally was back in Washington. Hundreds of D.C. fans made the trek up Interstate 95 to witness the moment firsthand.

“It’s almost surreal that this is happening,” said Mr. Malone, 47, a marketing firm owner who said he had been lobbying for the return of Major League Baseball to Washington since 1984, hiring planes with streamers to buzz Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and hanging banners in sports stadiums.

In Philadelphia yesterday, he sat in Section 127 of Citizens Bank Park, behind the Nats dugout with a group of 50 other Washington fans who chartered a bus to deliver them to the game.

Among the group was Hank Thomas, grandson of legendary pitcher Walter Johnson, one of the five original members of baseball’s Hall of Fame. He played for the old Washington franchise, the Senators, from 1907 to 1929.

“I never thought it would happen,” said Mr. Thomas, 59. “I gave up years back. I figured Baltimore had gotten so strong that baseball couldn’t divide the market … but [D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams] and Jack Evans [D.C. Council Ward 2 Democrat] just bulled it through.”

Mr. Thomas, a lanky six-footer who owns a bar on Capitol Hill, said the Nationals represent the District’s resurgence. “D.C. is just coming back so strong,” he said. Baseball, he predicted, will add more luster to the city’s new sparkle.

Other fans remembered attending Senators games as children.

“The last one I saw was incredible. Don Mincher hit a pinch-hit home run to beat the Tigers in 14 innings,” said Harry Tillman, 44. ” I believe it was May 15, 1971.

“It’s been so painful for all these years. As a 10-year-old child, it was tragic to lose my baseball team,” he said. “I’m just so thankful this day has come.”

While some fans waxed nostalgic for the Senators, others predicted success for the Nats — and soon, although yesterday’s season opener saw the former Montreal Expos fall to the Phillies, 8-4.

“I haven’t been as excited as I am right now in a long time,” said Tom Holster, 48, who founded the Washington Baseball Historical Society in 1996. “They’ll be better than the Senators. When they start playing in Washington and see the kind of enthusiasm they’re getting, that’s got to inspire them.”

Philadelphia fans were more skeptical.

Stanley Molotsky, 69, predicted the Nationals would fold in six years. “They didn’t last last time,” said Mr. Molotsky, who saw the Senators when they played the Philadelphia A’s in the 1940s. “There’s no base. In Washington, you have a lot of transient people.”

Phillies fans extended a short grace period to the out-of-towners; only scattered boos were heard when Washington Nationals fans cheered wildly as starting lineups were announced. But when Nats centerfielder Brad Wilkerson led off with a bloop single, the boos grew louder.

“Go back to Montreal,” one Philly fan yelled.

When Mr. Malone started the chant, “Let’s go Nats,” with two outs in the first inning and a man on first, the boos came raining down.

“I hate Phillies fans,” said Jeff Langley, 23, who wore a Redskins jersey.

Many in the Nationals crowd said they were former Orioles fans.

As their bus passed through Baltimore, there were jeers for both the city and Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos.

“I used to be an Orioles fan, but they haven’t done anything for me in a while, so I guess now I’m a home team fan,” said Seth Chadab, 23, who lives in Dupont Circle.

Other fans said they would support both teams.

Bruce Adams runs the Bethesda Big Train, a summer-league baseball team. He also coordinates season ticket groups for the Nationals and the Orioles.

“I got solid pitching, I got great hitting, so I figure I got 110 wins … between my Orioles tickets and my Nats tickets,” he said.

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