- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2015

When new Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred visited the Washington Nationals’ Youth Baseball Academy in February, he smiled and mostly deferred when asked about an All-Star Game coming to D.C.

Monday, he was direct. Manfred took the podium in the Nationals’ press conference room and announced the 2018 All-Star Game will be played at Nationals Park, fulfilling a decade-long pursuit for the Lerner family, which owns the team.

The 89th All-Star Game will arrive in Washington following persistent requests from Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner. He estimated the chase for an All-Star Game started about five or 10 minutes after his family took ownership of the franchise in 2006. Lerner said he wrote “upwards of 20” letters to commissioner emeritus Bud Selig and continued to press Manfred, who replaced Selig starting this season.

Lerner’s pressing of Selig was ongoing. Finally, last May, Selig told Lerner that the team would be awarded the game, which also includes events like the Home Run Derby and Futures Game. The next step was to pick a date. Complicating the date selection was the densely populated schedule of the Washington Convention Center, which will host associated events. Eventually, they were able to find unanimity in schedules and bring the game to the District 10 years after Nationals Park opened.

“At the end of the day, it was the only year that fit into the schedule,” Lerner said. “That was it. If we didn’t get ‘18, we were in trouble.”

Washington has previously hosted the All-Star Game four times — in 1937, 1956, 1962 and 1969. Lerner said he attended the games in ‘62 and ‘69. The 1962 and 1969 games were in RFK Stadium (in 1962, the stadium was known as D.C. Stadium).

Nationals Park opened in 2008 and cost more than $600 million. The All-Star Game’s arrival will give the Nationals a chance to display not only their park, but the development in the area. Several cranes populated the clear blue sky around the park in Southeast on Monday. Construction is ongoing and abundant.

“I think that’s a big deal for the organization and especially the Lerner family,” Nationals outfield Jayson Werth said. “They’ve been pushing hard to get that here for a while now. That’s quite an accomplishment for what they’ve tried to do here. When they took over the team and built a stadium, that was one thing I know Mark had been talking about since I signed here. Happy for him on that. That’s good. It’s a sign to the world, to baseball, that this place is for real.”

Nationals Park hosted the National Hockey League’s Winter Classic in January. Though Lerner said it was determined prior to that event that the game was coming, that experience showed how the stadium and area could deal with such a marquee presentation.

The Nationals will be the fourth consecutive National League team to host the All-Star Game. The Cincinnati Reds will host it this season, followed by the San Diego Padres in 2016 and the Miami Marlins in 2017.

“I think whenever a new stadium comes around, you don’t necessarily have to be a good team to get the All-Star Game,” said Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who has been with the organization since 2005. “I think [Major League Baseball] enjoys showing off new stadiums and luckily for us, we’ve been really good the last few years.

“The development in the area surrounding the stadium has really come a long way. By the time the All-Star Game is here, it’s going to be even further and it’s really going to be a fun place to come watch a game. I think it will be nice for the rest of the country to see what we have here in D.C.”

Three existing stadiums have yet to be assigned an All-Star Game by MLB: the homes of the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.
Washington is one of the great cities of the world,” Manfred said. “A city like Washington provides us a unique opportunity to showcase what we think is the greatest game in the world, Major League Baseball.”

Hearty handshakes and smiles dominated the 15-minute announcement of what Lerner had been pursuing. Manfred posed with the expansive Lerner family, which occupied almost half of the room, after the press conference. It’s not surprising no one had to be told to smile.

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