- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is it too late to change the name of NatsTown? How about Dunnville?

Some old “Adamstown” signs from the town in Frederick County probably still are available.

And let’s not stop there. What about some neighborhood names?

Orlando Hudson-on-the- Potomac, maybe?

The power got turned on in NatsTown on Wednesday when the Washington Nationals signed outfielder/first baseman Adam Dunn to a two-year, $20 million deal.

Can he now be called simply Adam Dunn, or will we still have to refer to him in code as the “big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup?”

Life just got a lot better for every hitter in the lineup thanks to the presence of Dunn. The brand name “No Fear” was an apt description of the attitude pitchers had when they faced the anemic Nationals lineup in recent years - particularly last season.

A pitcher on the mound is not worried about VORP or BRARP or any other measure of success in the geek squad handbook. He is worried about whether this hitter can make the ball leave the ballpark.

Dunn can do that - he has hit 40 or more home runs in each of the past five years.

Is he the solution to all the Nationals’ woes? Hardly.

But he is an answer to the question much of the eroding fan base has asked since the Lerner family took over the franchise in the middle of the 2006 season: How cheap are they?

Apparently not cheap enough to bury the franchise even deeper in the hole it fell into last year - a 102-loss embarrassment in its inaugural season at Nationals Park.

It would have been hard to repeat last year’s dismal performance even without Dunn. If everyone managed to just show up on a regular basis throughout the season instead of disappearing for weeks at a time on the disabled list, the Nationals probably would have improved by 10 games.

That conclusion, though, wouldn’t have been enough for fans making decisions about season tickets in these tough economic times.

I’ve heard many tales of fans who decided to drop a season-ticket package thinking that given the lack of buzz about the franchise, they could do better by walking up to the gate and getting tickets anytime they wanted.

I’ll bet some of those fans regret that decision now.

Of course, all this inflates Dunn’s importance far beyond what it should be. Position players rarely have a significant impact on attendance. Only a handful of players other than pitchers - Manny Ramirez and Albert Pujols, for example - draw fans to the ballpark. Dunn is not one of them.

But when they took over, the Lerners made a terrible strategic decision by not committing financially to fielding a team that would give fans a reason to come watch. They sorely underestimated the work necessary to rebuild a baseball market that had been without a team for 34 years.

The Washington Capitals committed to building a farm system of young players, a plan that often was cited as evidence of a long-term financial commitment and eventually resulted in much success.

But the Capitals have been in the D.C. area since 1974. They had a fan base. They had a history of success on some level. They existed.

Baseball in the District did not. That is why it was important to field a team that could win 75 to 80 games. That kind of effort is not a waste of money - it is a commitment to fans who are being asked to be patient.

Their patience wore out quickly, hence the urgency and hoopla surrounding the signing of Dunn. He became a symbol, not a player.

Some question Dunn as a player - witness the comments by Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi last year on a sports talk station when a caller asked about trying to acquire him.

“Do you know that the guy really doesn’t like baseball all that much?” Ricciardi said. “Do you know the guy doesn’t have a passion to play the game that much? How much do you know about the player? There’s a reason why you’re attracted to some players, and there’s a reason why you’re not attracted to some players. I don’t think you’d be very happy if we brought Adam Dunn here.”

Ricciardi isn’t the first person to make that case against Dunn, nor will he be the last.

But those who know Dunn say he is misunderstood, that his outspokenness sometimes can create bad feelings. They say he wanted to come to the Nats. He wants to be “The Man.”

Dunn will get his chance.

On the Nationals, baseball’s 12-step program, a less-than-enthusiastic attitude isn’t even the equivalent of a parking ticket.

In the past five years, the guy has played in more than 150 games a season, hit more than 200 home runs and driven in more than 500 runs. Who cares if he is not Rex Hudler?

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