- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Washington Nationals are inspiring more adults to slip on softball mitts, but their arrival has yet to impress the youth league crowd.

Among the inspired are the bellboys, cooks, front-desk clerks and other Willard InterContinental hotel employees who have started the company’s first softball team in years.

“There certainly has been a lot of increased interest with the Nationals coming,” said Barbara Bahny, the hotel’s public relations director. “It just seemed to be a natural to kind of follow the trend.”

The Willard team is just one of many this year joining the Neighborhood Athletic Association’s adult softball league, said Bill Goldman, the organization’s program director.

“It’s early yet, but we have 35 teams, close to 1,000 people already signed up,” he said. “Having this many six weeks before things start is really remarkable.”

Mr. Goldman said participation has returned to pre-September 11 levels and that twice as many players have signed up this year, compared with the same time last year.

He declined to link the trend to the Nationals, but said it was “a nice little coincidence that all of the sudden we have a lot of people signing up.”

Still, not every league has had an increase in participation.

Roger A. Stanley, an organizer of the Men’s Senior Baseball League, the largest adult recreation league in the area, reports no such increase.

“It’s too new,” he said. “I think once [Nationals baseball] takes hold here and people actually go to games, people are going to want to play ball again.”

However, the 88-team league has 128 players on the waiting list, which might explain the low level of new interest.

John T. Sullivan, of the Mason District Little League in Falls Church, has a theory about why the return of the Nationals has yet to bolster youth league rosters.

“They need to be on TV before kids get interested,” he said.

Still, the league has supported the return of big league baseball by naming a team after the Nationals in each division.

Calls to several other youth leagues in the region also found no increase in participation, compared with last year.

Gerard Hall, baseball director for the District’s Woodridge Warriors Youth Organization, agrees with Mr. Sullivan that more time is needed.

“They haven’t seen a game yet,” he said. “You know how kids are. They want it right in front of their faces. … [The Nationals] are invisible until they see a game or see them out and about somewhere.”

Meanwhile, the Turner Construction Co. and the D.C. Baseball Association are scheduled today to provide a private, invitation-only tour of RFK Stadium to about 40 Little Leaguers. Mayor Anthony A. Williams and several D.C. Council members are expected to attend the 4:30 p.m. tour.

The Nationals are scheduled to play a charity exhibition game at RFK on Sunday, beginning at 12:05 p.m.

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