- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brian Schneider was put to work a little earlier than the rest of his teammates yesterday.

The Washington Nationals catcher needed to make a nifty grab of Vice President Dick Cheney’s ceremonial first pitch, which bounced in the dirt well to the right of Schneider’s crouch.

It was a far cry from last year’s first pitch, a high and slightly outside ball by President Bush that was greeted with significant applause. Cheney took and departed the field to more boos than cheers, but this experience was still meaningful for Schneider.

“[The pitch] was a little short, but it was hard to top last year,” he said. “But it was fun. It’s always good to be with the vice president. Check it off the list, I guess.”

Cheney’s pitch was the centerpiece of yesterday’s pregame festivities at RFK Stadium. Renowned opera singer Placido Domingo sang the national anthem, and the U.S. Army Chorus sang “God Bless America” as a giant American flag was unfurled in the outfield by the D.C. National Guard.

F-16 fighters piloted by the 113th Wing of the D.C. Air National Guard buzzed the stadium at the end of the anthem, drawing a roar from the crowd.

Three soldiers who received Purple Hearts for being wounded in action then were honored near the Nationals’ dugout: Army Staff Sgt. Derek L. Drew of Goldsboro, N.C., who was injured while on a peacekeeping mission north of Baghdad; Marine Cpl. Jamel Daniels of New York, who was injured on a routine patrol in Iraq; and Army Spc. Javier Torres, wounded during a foot patrol in Kandahar.

Smulyan optimistic

Indianapolis radio mogul Jeffrey Smulyan, one of the bidders favored to become owner of the Nationals, attended yesterday’s game with some of the local investors in his group, including former Redskin Charles Mann and former Dallas Cowboy and Redskin Calvin Hill.

Smuylan said he expected the winner to be announced “certainly within the next two weeks.”

“That’s what we’ve been told. … We have always been cautiously optimistic,” Smulyan said. “We like our chances. We love our group, and we just feel that for a lot of reasons, we would be the best choice.”

Hill said the image of the group as out-of-towners is a misconception because of the local investors Smuylan has assembled.

“We are local, and not only are we local, we touch every part of Washington and are comfortable in every part of Washington,” he said.

When asked whether it was possible his group could take in other investors, Smulyan said, “Sure, you never say never. Other people have talked to us. There are other people who would like to be part of the group. Absolutely, we are open to ideas. But our group right now, as is constituted, is fully prepared to own this team and operate this team.”

Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer, confirmed Smuylan’s anticipated timetable.

“The commissioner has indicated he is in the process of making his final decision, and I told Congresswoman [Eleanor Holmes] Norton at a hearing last week that I hoped it would be done in a couple of weeks,” DuPuy said.

Astacio update

Injured right-hander Pedro Astacio has resumed light throwing, but he does not appear ready to come off the disabled list when he is eligible to be reinstated Sunday. The Nationals placed him on the DL with a strained right forearm April 1.

“We started to play catch today already, and we’ll see where we’re going,” he said. “I haven’t talked to a doctor on how I feel. I’m feeling fine. I’m throwing on flat ground.”

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