- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

About a year ago, a phenomenon drew 2.7 million people into the District. More people, from more backgrounds, from more places in metropolitan Washington, got together in one place than anytime in the history of Washington. And that place was RFK Stadium. Do you remember?

I grew up in College Park; I’ve lived in DC; I live in Fairfax now. I went to 27 games last year. To say I loved it would be an understatement. I believed, in spending my money in town, I was supporting the history, the traditions, and the people of the District. I saw beer vendors earning tremendous tips in a hard night’s work. A baseball expert told me Nationals’ fans spent more cash, out-of-pocket, in the stadium, than any fans in baseball. How on earth would 2.7 million people spend this kind of money in the District if not for the Nationals?

I opened my World Almanac and looked up our 2005 Nationals. I concluded something is terribly wrong: Nats’ fans have been told we had a great team in the first half of the season, and a lousy team the rest of the way. This is mistaken. They were mediocre the entire season. Consider: no full-season National had more than 76 RBIs; we had the lowest batting average, number of hits, and number of homers in the National League.

No Nationals’ player stole 10 bases. And we drew 2.7 million people. I predict if the Nationals go to the playoffs regularly, we will average 11 million fans a year.

We outdrew the World Series Champion White Sox, the National League East Champion Braves, and Peter Angelos’s Baltimore Orioles. Does anyone remember?

After the high tide of the Nationals in October, ebb tide brought nullification, misdirection, and shadow.

A city that signed an agreement in the light of day looks for a way not to honor it. Construction workers, vendors, ushers, groundskeepers, front-office staff, and kids that might dream of playing for the Nationals — all abandoned. A drive to the potential stadium site in near Southeast is all one needs to see the potential, the magic, of endless summer nights for Washingtonians, enjoying baseball and each other, forever.

Politicians who’ve tolerated overruns on every project since Union Station suddenly grimace at the concept the stadium price might increase with time.

Anti-stadium advocates dishonestly tell the parents of Washington the money for the stadium will come out of the D.C. Education Budget. This is wrong.

When the Nationals first came to Washington, I asked a business acquaintance from Dallas what he thought about the situation. “I just can’t wait to watch them mess it up,” he said. Will we mess it up? Will Washington be a laughingstock, as he hopes and predicts, again? Do we remember losing the Redskins to Maryland?

The stadium controversy reveals an utter failure of our civic imagination.

Has anyone considered what it would mean to Washington to host an All-Star game? This event is an international festival, runs three full days, and would bring immeasurable prestige to the District. My guess: D.C. would be selected to host within two years of the new stadium’s opening. It would mean tens and tens of millions of dollars coming into town. Has anyone considered this? Has anyone thought about the effect of multigame playoff series right here in Washington?

Has anyone considered that a baseball stadium might last 50 or 100 years? Does anyone remember the price tag for Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, or Yankee Stadium? Should the Chicago City Council have stopped Wrigley Field because it would require a nearby commuter rail station? Should Boston have killed Fenway because commuters from Connecticut didn’t pay enough for it? Are Chicago, Boston, and New York better places to live because of the Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees? Everyone, please, lift your heads from your ledgers and allow beauty and poetry a tiny place in your imagination.

We can build the stadium, strengthen our city, and pursue our dreams, all at once. We can.

FRANK CUMBERLAND

A public relations executive and freelance writer.

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