- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2005

So the Patriots and Eagles are headed for Roman Numeral XXXIX.

So the Wizards and Hoyas are doing better than expected.

So the Terps are stinking up various venues around the ACC.

So there’s no hockey.

So?

I understand that each of these categories commands some interest — if they didn’t, I might be writing obits for a living. But in the gathering gloom of midwinter, only one sporting matter should really concern older Washingtonians.

Play ball!

Or putting it another way … just 21 days until pitchers and catchers report, 36 days until the first exhibition game, 69 days until the season opener and — dare we say it? — 79 days until a Washington team plays an official major league game in the nation’s capital.

For many of us, it’s a dream come true, except it isn’t a dream.

George W. Bush, the former Texas Rangers owner who went on to bigger things, will be throwing out the first ball on April14 — a welcome sight no matter your political persuasion. But in a larger sense, President Bush also will be cranking up his right arm for Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Dear Old Dad and Bill Clinton, predecessors who never got a chance to do so in their temporary hometown or who were forced to skulk 40 miles north to Baltimore to perform the most hallowed of American sporting traditions.

The president also will be throwing out the first pitch for all of us who for 33 oh-so-long seasons lost a chance to root, root, root for the home team.

Most of us can imagine how a departed parent or relative would have enjoyed this sight because the love of baseball so often is handed down from generation to generation. And on Opening Day, I’ll be thinking of two late sportswriters who fought the good baseball fight for so many years in their columns, Shirley Povich and Mo Siegel.

Back in the comparatively placid ‘50s, when I grew up watching the Senators blow games under Bucky Harris, Chuck Dressen and Cookie Lavagetto, baseball ruled the sporting scene. True, each of these estimable skippers had seen better days: Harris won pennants with the 1924 and ‘25 Senators and the ‘47 Yankees, Dressen did so with the ‘52 and ‘53 Dodgers, and Lavagetto broke up a World Series no-hitter with a ninth-inning, game-wining double for the ‘47 Bums. But even with the cash-strapped, second-division Nats, they remained towering figures to a teenager.

Funny thing, the undisputable fact the Washington Nationals exist hasn’t hit me emotionally yet. In a way, it’s still hard to believe after all the decades of hopes and disappointments, plus the roller-coaster ride Linda W. Cropp treated us to after Major League Baseball finally said the former Montreal Expos were headed here.

At some point, though, I expect to feel like a kid on Christmas morning. It might be when I turn on the radio and hear the first exhibition broadcast from Viera, Fla., Opening Day in Philly or — most likely — when a team with “W” on its caps takes the field at RFK Stadium.

As we know, the Washington Nationals — heck, let’s just call them the Nats now and beat the rush — are something of a mess right now with no owner, no permanent front office and a minuscule player payroll. But they’re our mess, and pretty soon, they’ll be owned by a bunch of rich people who hopefully will be more fan-friendly than most of their peers.

Did somebody mention Peter Angelos in the latter regard? I wonder why.

By all rights, Major League Baseball should sell the club to one of the two groups that have sought for years to bring baseball back to the area, Bill Collins’ Virginia gang or Fred Malek’s District band; it would be a crime if the Nats go to one of the other bidders who have emerged after the fact. Of course, the other club owners — showing their usual common sense and sense of fair play — won’t consider this. But they should.

As far as the Nats’ roster is concerned, most of the players are strangers in the night, to steal a line from Sinatra. But that doesn’t really matter. Everyone knows manager Frank Robinson, whose presence in a Washington dugout should haunt Angelos, and by June the athletes’ names and faces will be familiar.

That’s the beautiful thing about baseball — it’s there every day for six months, whether we have season tickets or merely catch an inning on radio or TV every now and then. Probably the Nats will be lousy for a while, but … hey, remember what F. Robby did with the 1989 O’s? Maybe Livan Hernandez will win 20, Brad Wilkerson will hit 40 and Terrmel Sledge will make everybody forget Sister.

You know what? I’m getting excited, and I bet you are, too.a

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