- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 4, 2003

The first week in February, usually so bleak and barren with no promise of spring, is when we used to start counting the days that gave us hope.
Three weeks until pitchers and catchers report.
One month until exhibition games start.
And, thank goodness, only two months until the regular season, when we can watch baseball highlights every night on ESPN, ingest the box scores with breakfast and take ourselves out to the ballgame whenever finances permit.
Surely, these thoughts would sustain us until the first crack (or clank) of a bat is heard and the world seems a little brighter.
Or maybe not.
Not this year.
For professional baseball long ago our national pastime no longer is our game. They have taken it away from us, the selfish owners and greedy players, and they have ruined it, perhaps for all time.
Sitting in the stands with a hot dog in one hand, a beer in the other and a bag of peanuts on our laps will always be fun for many middle-aged adults. But the occasion is spoiled when we watch players who make more in a month than we will in a lifetime loafing through a four-hour game.
Nomar Garciaparra is a great player, but where is it written that he must be allowed to wrap, unwrap and rewrap his batting glove before every pitch? The saintly Cal Ripken didn't do that. Neither did Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb heck, they never heard of batting gloves and they did all right. As Casey Stengel used to say, you could look it up.
(Forgive the digression. I almost seem to waste time when I'm writing about baseball.)
So the point is made: Thinking about baseball, or rolling around in its ambiance, can be a lot more fun than actually watching it these days, and that's a shame. I don't want to prattle endlessly about endless games, but young people sometimes ask how we used to sit through doubleheaders when I was a kid provided they even know what a doubleheader was.
Along about 1955, you could take a streetcar down Florida Avenue NW to Griffith Stadium and enjoy two games, with a 20-minute break between, in, say, five hours. Honest! Sure, Griffith Stadium was a dump and the Senators were lousy, but they were ours.
Every now and then, we heard that good teams in New York and elsewhere were involved in pennant races, but these were just rumors. We took what we could get, including the cold franks and warm beer. And if our Nats beat the lordly Yankees once in a while, it seemed like Christmas had come early.
We cared, you see, and it's very hard to care anymore especially in Washington.
I lose track has it really been 32 years since a team representing the nation's capital went to spring training and frolicked (more or less) its way through a season? Is our drought about to end in 2004, 2005 or … ever?
I dunno, but I wouldn't bet on it. It seems to me that Major League Baseball is doing everything it can to avoid putting a team here because (a) it might hurt the Orioles and owner Peter Angelos, and (b) two previous clubs have left town.
(Y'know, Bud baby, we could always move the Expos to Portland and hope it doesn't rain every night, or Charlotte and hope somebody will notice once the basketball season is over, or Las Vegas and hope people get out of the casinos with enough money left to buy tickets. And how about San Juan? I bet those Puerto Rican workers are dying to spend a week's salary to see a ballgame.)
I can't say that Angelos is doing all he can to block us, but I wouldn't be surprised particularly when he has the other newspaper in town, er, cozying up to him. King Peter already has wrecked the Orioles; could he wreck the new Washington Nationals before they're even born?
And what gives him the right? Certainly, a lot of area fans have shifted their allegiance to the Orioles over three decades, but let's face it: Washington is Washington, and Baltimore is, well, Balmer. Would you come here to eat a good crab cake or go there to see the national monuments?
I'm glad I mentioned the O's because they're another reason not to give a rodent's rump about this year. They've lost 95 and 98 games the past two seasons, and I'd tell you their total since they went wire-to-wire in 1997 except I can't count that high.
I applaud their efforts to rebuild with young players rather than overpriced free agents, but it would have helped if they didn't have the worst farm system in baseball. This season? With any luck, I'm convinced they can lose 100 games. With all due respect to a solid journeyman, you're in trouble when Jeff Conine is your best everyday player.
Now that Cal is gone, there's no reason for us to worry about the Orioles. All we can do is wait and hope and we should be pretty good at that by now.
So in a time of national tragedy and impending war, when sports truly can sustain us, all we can do is root for the Terps to go back to the Final Four, the Caps to make the playoffs and Michael Jordan to end his career in a final flash of light.
Three weeks until pitchers and catchers report?
Who cares?
Like I say, so bleak and barren.



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