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Thom Loverro: Dunn, Nats a good match

- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

VIERA, Fla.

The furor over the player formerly known as "Smiley" at Washington Nationals spring training took the spotlight off what should have been the story of the day Wednesday - the first time their $20 million man appeared on the field.

Any player the Lerners would be willing to give $20 million to is deserving of more attention. So while the Dominican baseball scandal that has rocked the franchise continues to unfold, the time spent on baseball players who actually appear to be who the team says they are should be taken advantage of.

So let's take another look at Adam Dunn, whose role as savior of the Nationals got even tougher with the revelation that the club paid $1.4 million to a player who turned out to be someone else and four years older than everyone thought.

The more the dysfunction of this franchise makes news off the field, the more important it is for this team to create some positive attention on the field. If Dunn can do that, he will have earned that $20 million.

After his second day on the field Thursday, the big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup said he is comfortable with his surroundings.

"It's been easy to fit in here," Dunn said. "I've seen a lot of familiar faces. It has been a very easy transition."

For any former Cincinnati player, joining the Nationals is familiar given the number of ex-Reds players that general manager Jim Bowden has brought to the organization.

But a former New York Mets player may have made Dunn feel the most comfortable. Lastings Milledge, who has worn No. 44 since he became a major leaguer three years ago, gave the number to Dunn, who wore No. 44 with the Reds.

When Dunn was introduced to Nationals fans at a news conference in the District, he had taken No. 32, which he wore last year when he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. He said he was comfortable with 32, but Milledge reached out to him in camp and gave him 44.

"He hit 240 home runs in the last six years, and he is not going to come up short because he doesn't have his number," Milledge said.

Dunn did not ask Milledge for it, and Milledge - unlike many situations when players negotiate a price - did not ask for anything.

"It is just the right thing to do," Milledge said. "We all make good money here."

Now that is news: a player with a real-world perspective.

Milledge will now wear 85, for 1985, the year he was born. "I wanted a big number," he said. "I like big numbers."

Taped on Milledge's locker in the Space Coast Stadium clubhouse was a sign that read "Ocho Cinco" - put there in jest by manager Manny Acta, referring to NFL diva receiver Chad Johnson.

"I am changing my name to 'Ocho Cinco,' " Milledge joked. "I am going to the courthouse to change my name."

Dunn may be comfortable here - particularly now that he has his old number - but there is someplace else he would rather be Saturday night - George Mason's Patriot Center for a mixed martial arts show.

The Ultimate Warrior Challenge, a local promotion that has been building a fan base, is putting on an event called "Man 'O' War," an MMA program featuring former two-time World Extreme Cagefighting champion Chase "The Rage" Beebe taking on Temple Hills' Mike "The Hulk" Easton for the bantamweight championship. The event also boasts the area's first pro female MMA match, pitting local fighter Iman "Mannie" Achhal, a former Fairfax County firefighter, against former world kickboxing champion Felice "Lil Bulldog" Herrig.

It turns out that the big bopper is an extreme mixed martial arts fan.

"I love it," Dunn said. "I am a huge fan. If I was in Washington Saturday night, I would be there - guaranteed. That would be awesome."

Dunn is such an MMA fanatic that when Randy Couture faced Tim Sylvia for the UFC heavyweight championship in Columbus, Ohio, two years ago, Dunn flew up from spring training to be ringside.

"That was great," Dunn said. "Randy is everyone's favorite, and for him to handle Sylvia the way he did was amazing.

"I got to know [former middleweight champion] Rich Franklin pretty well. He's a Cincinnati guy. I like Anderson Silva, and I love Georges St-Pierre. They have to fight. They have to make that happen. Those are the two best."

Dunn said he got interested in MMA when he was 10 years old - around the time UFC started.

"I've seen every single one of their shows, and I don't know how many I've been to live," he said. "I love it."

Maybe Dunn can attend the next UWC card. By then, he could be the toast of the District, which would be a welcome development for the Nationals, who right now are Dominican toast.