- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Washington Nationals open their second home season today against the New York Mets at RFK Stadium.

Yes, the ballpark still is called RFK.

It was supposed to be renamed National Guard Field at RFK Stadium about this time last year. That proposal, however, turned messy when Congress and the Pentagon got involved and someone concluded that might not be the most appropriate use of military funding.

The city later reportedly was close to a deal with ProFunds Advisors LLC, a Bethesda investment company, but that never came to pass either.

So the entire season came and went at RFK without a naming-rights deal that could have brought the city $2million. Much of that money would have gone to District youth and recreation programs and facilities and some to the Greater Washington Sports Alliance.

Now the Nats are opening at home again, still with no naming-rights deal in place.

You would think, in honor of Vice President Dick Cheney throwing out the first pitch today, they could at least have made a one-day naming-rights deal with Target.

D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission chairman Mark Tuohey said a variety of circumstances prevented a naming-rights deal last year but that the commission is very to a deal now.

“We were moving along with an early proposal last year from the National Guard, and then a question was raised whether a military unit could get involved in something like this,” Tuohey said. “We had lengthy meetings with the Pentagon and members of Congress, and it was decided it was not appropriate. Then we began looking at other possibilities, and we were involved in a couple of discussions that didn’t work out.

“We have now found an appropriate candidate, and we are in final discussions,” said Tuohey, who did not identify the candidate. “We hope to have an announcement in the next 10 days or so. It looks like we will have a successful conclusion.”

Maybe there will be a successful conclusion to the owner-rights deal by then, as well.

There have been rumors that baseball would introduce the winning bidder for the Nationals at the game. That appears to be wishful thinking. A review by the bidders of the final construction documents and other information for the new ballpark still needs to take place.

Plus, Jeff Smulyan will attend today’s game, and it doesn’t sound as if he is coming with the expectation of being introduced as the Nationals owner. In any case, Smulyan is close enough to commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig and his lieutenant, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, that they would warn him not to make this trip if someone else were going to be announced as owner.

The Nats should have had an owner and a stadium with a naming-rights deal a year ago and still have neither.

The naming-rights deal, in its own unique way, is understandable. This is business in the District, as we have seen watching the D.C. Council battle over the ballpark lease. Nothing gets done according to plan, and so whoever gets the naming rights probably will have them for the next four years.

An owner, though, is a different story.

When the Montreal Expos’ move to Washington was announced in September 2004, team president Tony Tavares conservatively estimated the team would have a new owner by May — 2005, that is.

Why has it dragged on this long? We need to look at the deal that started all of this — the three-franchise swap in 2002 in which Major League Baseball purchased the Expos from Jeff Loria, who in turn bought the Florida Marlins from John Henry, who then joined a bidding group for the Red Sox.

That appears to be the blueprint that will lead to a Nationals owner, and Cadillac Bud is in the final stages of trying to recreate that sort of ownership coalition that he is so proud of — a dream team, if you will.

When an owner finally is introduced, an appropriate name might be Fenway Park South at RFK.

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