- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Baseball is staggering in position to jilt Washington again. This has come to be the unofficial pastime of the erstwhile national pastime in the past 32 years.

Excuse the pessimism, a conditioned response to baseball’s bureaucratic inertia.

The tea leaves say we are close this time, really close.

Tell it to George Bush 41, the old horseshoes aficionado.

The game within the game is no longer infuriating, just tiresome, not unlike a long-running TV show that has run out of life.

The indifference comes from a one-time devotee of the Senators who routinely hopped the bus to the playpen on East Capitol Street, first dubbed D.C. Stadium before it became a memorial to Robert F. Kennedy.

General admission was 75 cents in those days, if you can believe that, later bumped to as high as $1.75 under the dreadful ownership of Bob Short.

The ushers were not too vigilant with the misplaced youth, mitt in hand, who patrolled the lower-deck seats by the left-field foul pole during batting practice.

You could snare a couple of foul balls a night before taking your appointed place in the upper deck and keeping score in the program. You could not beat the pleasant aroma of the place and the barking of the vendors: the Coke Man, the Peanut Man, the Hot Dog Man, the Beer Man.

You died with each game, which resulted in a considerable amount of dying each season. The Washington Senators never were very good on the ball field, which rarely tempered the youthful fascination.

Frank Howard was the man back then, a large man, a former basketball player at Ohio State who, before each pitch was delivered, wiggled his seemingly tiny bat as if he were a nervous wreck.

This is no lie. Howard once hit a line drive that a shortstop tried to catch by jumping into the air. But this was no ordinary line drive. The ball kept climbing until, yes, it cleared the fence in left-center field, about 380 feet from home plate. He was that strong.

Even when Howard struck out, which was often, there was an element of excitement to it. He would swing — a mighty whoosh — before kicking up some dirt and wrapping himself into a frenzy.

What Howard might do to the juiced-up ball today. He hit some long ones as it was, to the far reaches of the upper-deck seats in left field.

Someone got the idea to mark Howard’s longest shots by splashing white paint on the seats that served as landing spots. Bet Howard, if he were playing today, could jack one out of RFK.

It has become fashionable in these parts to call for boycotts against Peter Angelos and the Orioles, which is a belated recognition of the obvious.

If you were with Senators until 1971, no instruction on how to behave around the Orioles was necessary. They were Baltimore’s team. That was the city up the parkway. Still is. Didn’t like them then. Don’t like them now. One other thing: Boog Powell always seemed to hit three home runs a game against the Senators. That darn guy. That darn team.

Washington seemed a whole lot friendlier then, safer too, almost a big small town. You could be a kid then in a way that perhaps you cannot be a kid in the city today. You played sandlot ball in the daytime and you went to the ballpark at night. There was always a ballgame in the summer. There also was the chess-playing eccentrics at Dupont Circle. Some of them were pretty darn good in chess.

That admittedly romanticized version of Washington is gone forever, like baseball in a way, whether one day, at the corner of New York Avenue and North Capitol Street NE, the home-plate umpire yells, “Play ball.”

Baseball has lost so much of its transcendent appeal in the last generation, the game now awash in seam heads, poets and victims of Tourette’s syndrome.

The loss is felt harder in Washington, first abandoned by baseball before being used like a second-rate locality.

The insult persists. Baseball is still thinking, undecided as always, hard as that is to grasp in the vicinity of Washington’s compelling demographics and the mayor’s financial plan.

Baseball is probably going to need another year to think about Washington; Northern Virginia; Portland, Ore.; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

By then, baseball could have another civic suitor or two to consider. You never know. Maybe Breezewood, Pa., will have a “Baseball in 2005 Committee” in place by then.


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