- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

The Nationals have answered many of their fans’ questions. Would they be competitive? (Yes, they had a .500 season.) Would crowds show up? (Also yes, average attendance was close to 34,000 at each game.)

The only major unresolved question as the season winds down is ownership.

“I don’t think we should be so focused on ‘when.’ It’s more important that the right owner is selected,” Nationals’ General Manager Jim Bowden said Thursday night at the team’s $600,000 charity fundraising gala at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. “Look at Boston. They took a long time to select an owner but nobody’s complaining now,” Mr. Bowden noted as he greeted guests with his fiancee, Joy Browning, at his side.

Prospective owners who attended the event included a few from the Fred Malek-Jeff Zients-Dennis Bakkeet al group, the others beingJonathan Ledecky, Mark Lerner and Franklin Haney Sr. (the latter promising to match the night’s proceeds dollar-for-dollar up to $600,000 to benefit various local charities, including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington).

The would-be buyers were mum about the selection process other than to say an announcement would either be made in the next two weeks or not until after the playoffs.

So, we asked the players.

“It’s not something we can control, so we try not to worry about it too much,” said Brian Schneider, the Nats’ top catcher. “But obviously we care. … When the new owner comes in, hopefully it will mean an increase in payroll.”

Third baseman Carlos Baerga said a new owner could help the team acquire the pitching talent it needs. The veteran ballplayer agreed with Schneider that players need to stay focused on what they can control, such as staying healthy and improving their game.

“Next season will really be something,” said Baerga, sporting a pair of bejeweled, designer sunglasses. As in going to the playoffs? “Yes, that has to be our goal.”

Manager Frank Robinson, who got the biggest ovation of the night, had words of praise for the fans (“They’ve been great”) and the attendance (“Better than I could ever have expected”) before turning to sign what must have been his hundredth autograph of the night.

Applause also erupted when Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ presence was announced by newsman Tim Russert, the evening’s emcee. Mr. Williams, who earlier that day announced he would not seek a third term, said he’d been to at least 30 games this season and plans to go to even more once he’s “retired.”

Others spotted in the crowd included D.C. council members Kathleen Patterson, Jack Evans, Vincent OrangeandCarol Schwartz; D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chief Allen Y. Lew; and Marshall E. Purnell, the new stadium’s architect.

— Gabriella Boston

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