- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

If you’ll permit a digression during this most sacrosanct of football weeks, a sad horsehide note seems appropriate:

It’s time to give up on baseball in Washington and environs.

I mean really give up.

Ever since Bob Short skedaddled off to Texas with his little ballclub that couldn’t, we’ve waged our own Thirty Years War to restore our baseball birthright. Thirty-two years, to be exact.

There have been highs (a few), lows (a lot) and in-betweens during this long, lonely struggle. For years now, Bill Collins’ Virginia Baseball group and Fred Malek’s D.C. gang have battled valiantly and vainly. The reward has been repeated frustration, for them and for us.

Like many others, I held out hope that someday, somehow, a team representing the nation’s capital would dash onto the field at a gorgeous new ballpark with flags waving, multitudes cheering and a couple of our national monuments shining in all their grandeur beyond the outfield walls.

Guess what? It ain’t gonna happen, in 2004, 2005 or ever.

To paraphrase the immortal Chuck Dressen, the Nats is dead. Again.

The final blow was struck, the final nail driven this month when other major league owners, meeting in sunny Arizona, elected Peter Angelos to the commissioner’s Executive Council. I don’t know how much power the council has, but the simple fact of his addition reiterates the long obvious fact that Major League Baseball does not want a team in the Washington area.

Angelos, as we know, has been the major obstacle for years. Apparently, Bud Selig cherishes his advice and friendship, which means Bud isn’t going to do anything his newfound bud doesn’t want. And what Angelos doesn’t want most of all is another team 35 miles down the road that would lessen the value of the Orioles whenever he decides to sell the club.

So what do we do now? There are two options.

• Ignore baseball, with all its hypocrisy, greed and 31/2-hour games, if you haven’t already done so.

• Embrace the Orioles as the only regional alternative, even at the cost of putting more money in King Peter’s pocket.

From a logical standpoint, I’d like to do the former — swear off what used to be our national pastime. There are other things to do and other sports to watch. Heck, maybe I could even become a soccer fan.

But from an emotional standpoint, it’s impossible — baseball has many folks of my generation trapped. After all, I grew up with the sport. I saw Connie Mack manage. I saw Mickey Vernon play a good first base for bad Washington Senators teams. I saw Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard hit home runs halfway to Dumfries. And later, after two D.C. franchises blew town, I saw Jim Palmer, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray. And, above all others, I saw Cal Ripken Jr., the shortstop who came to play every single day and night.

I didn’t decide to become an Orioles supporter — it happened of its own accord. Later, it was a shock to realize my children didn’t care at all about my stories of the long-departed Nats because they were Bird-watchers through and through. Baseball is funny that way. If it bites you when you’re a kid, the bug usually doesn’t go away.

In midwinter, surrounded by other sports, the true baseball fan huddles by his mental hot stove and dreams of pitchers and catchers reporting in less than a month. When you have a team to cherish, this is the best time of year for hope rather than hopelessness.

The Orioles have been pretty bad for years now — fourth place in the American League East seems a permanent residence — but they did improve by four games last season to 71-91, so maybe …

Mike Hargrove was a good manager but too easygoing. We don’t know much about the new guy, Lee Mazzilli, but he came from the Yankees and should be tougher, so maybe …

Peter Angelos, whatever his faults, has taken the lock off his checkbook for a change. Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez coming in, Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson coming back — zowie! So we didn’t get Vladimir Guerrero and Pudge Rodriguez, who needs ‘em? The O’s have plenty of talent now, so maybe …

I don’t know if you still care about baseball or will when the season starts, and Lord knows there are reasons not to. But for some of us, it’s impossible not to care, no matter how many times the game has kicked dirt in our faces.

So let’s cock an ear or eye toward Baltimore and try to bleed a little black and orange come spring. There’s nowhere else to go.

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