The Washington Nationals wrapped up the franchise's inaugural winter caravan yesterday with three local stops, the best of which took place when Ryan Zimmerman and Nook Logan (with no mascot in sight) toured the construction site for the team's new ballpark.
It was the first time the Nationals' true stars appeared, and I'm not talking about Zim and Nook. No, the stars of this franchise are people like Levonda Deloaich and Mike Moseley, two of the construction workers who are building the future of baseball in Washington.
Think about it. Yes, the Nats tout Ryan Zimmerman in promotions. But when the club sells tickets, the pitch isn't really Zim or Nook or any of the players you will see on the field in this final season at RFK Stadium -- at least not in a Nats uniform.
They are selling next year this year -- if you want to be in the new ballpark next season, you'd better buy your tickets for this season. What you really are buying is the performance not of John Patterson or Felipe Lopez but that of Deloaich, Moseley and the other workers upon whom everyone is counting to build a ballpark the city can be proud of come April 2008.
So here is a scouting report on some of those key performers at the new ballpark:
Levonda Deloaich, electrician. Five-foot-4, 140 pounds. Turns 39 on Friday. She grew up in Washington and played basketball at Northwestern High School in Prince George's County. Throws right, bats right and has been working at the ballpark site since October. She is a rookie, having never before worked on a stadium.
"This is my first outside job," she said. "I asked to be here. I love football, baseball and basketball. I'm a big sports fan, and this is so cool to watch happening. I live right across the bridge, so every day I come to work I see it in front of me going up. It is fun and a great experience."
Mike Moseley, iron worker. Five-foot-10, 150 pounds. Forty-four years old. He was born near Harpers Ferry, W.Va., and grew up in Surry County, Va. Throws right ("but I can't throw a baseball"), bats right. He is a veteran of sports facility construction and was on the site yesterday for his first day of work.
"I helped build the [Arizona] Cardinals' stadium in Phoenix and the civic center there, which was some big iron. I have done some pretty big structures. I love sports and love doing sports arenas. I worked on the Comcast Center at Maryland. I am not much of a baseball fan. I love football and college basketball. I am what you call a 'boomer.' I go where the money is and I go where the fun is, and anytime you are hanging iron, that's fun for me."
Randy Aughenbaugh, precaster. Five-foot-10, 200 pounds. Comes from Cleveland. Throws right, bats right. A high school wrestler. He has been on the work site since October.
"I worked at the Cleveland Indians stadium," he said. "I am a big sports fan of the Cleveland Browns and the Indians. The Indians had their run, and now they are starting over again. It was disappointing last year."
Interestingly, this was his observation about working at the ballpark construction site: "I wish they had more parking for the men who work here," Aughenbaugh said. "There is absolutely zero parking."
Sounds like a complaint we may be hearing at the ballpark for a long, long time.
Mike Davis, steel erector. Five-foot-9, 220 pounds. Sixty-one years old. Throws right, bats right. A former shortstop and pitcher who said he went to Michigan State on a baseball scholarship. He is from Ludington, Mich., which, according to Davis, is the garden spot of the state.
"It's a small town on the coast of Lake Michigan," he said. "It has about 12,000 year-round residents, 36,000 summer-only residents and 250,000 tourists in the months of June, July and August. We have a state park that is considered the second-most beautiful park in Michigan. We have pristine beaches, and it is an absolutely beautiful place to live."
And I didn't even ask.
"I am a steel guy," Davis said. "I've worked on quite a few ballparks around the country -- Comerica Park in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and a number of convention centers. I have worked on most of the big projects in the United States over the past 15 years. I have been doing this for 40 years. I like working on this site. I think the Clark people who are running the project are great. I am not crazy about the traffic here, but I know you have heard that before."
"I am a sports fan," he said. "I don't follow it like I used to. I was working in Miami at the airport when the Marlins were in the World Series, and I got to go to the World Series for the first time. You tend to be a fan of the team of the city you are working in, even though I am a Detroit boy and still root for the Tigers. I was excited they made the World Series, but their performance in the Series was disappointing. They peaked a little too early. But if I am here long enough, I will probably be a Nationals fan and hope to see a game here in the stadium I helped build."
Ladies and gentlemen, these are your Washington Nationals.