- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

“A pattern and companion fit; for all the keeping tonies of the pit.”

John Dryden

For real, that’s the 17th-century quotation I found when I looked up the spelling of tony, as in the last thing that the District needs is another toy for tony people.

How befitting then is Dryden’s verse to describe Anthony “Tony” Williams, who will be remembered as the D.C. mayor who brought baseball back to the nation’s capital in the same week that the 21st child this year was killed in the future stadium’s shadow.

Far be it for me to rain on anybody’s game, but somebody’s got to step up to the plate and keep this full-count pitch for a baseball stadium for a bunch of billionaires from being a shutout for the District’s youth.

When I asked Mr. Williams what the District’s children will get out of this deal beside a few baseball tickets, he threw up his hand and walked away.

Why? Because this arrogant, absentee mayor doesn’t believe he has to answer to countless constituents for whom I posed the critical question.

Let them eat cake; excuse me, let them buy baseball tickets, Mayor “Marie An-Tony-ette”?

In fact, one brave resident dared to ask a similarly pointed baseball-vs.-books-type question at the downtown City Museum during the baseball lovefest on Wednesday. She was hissed and booed and basically told to shut up. After all, she was not a member of the press and had no right to participate in the pull-the-cap-down-over-the-eyes party. She was only a taxpayer who will have to foot the bill.

No matter how many times the powers that be try to silence you, D.C. taxpayers need to get up in their faces and ask An-Tony-ette and his D.C. Council cronies: At what price is the giveaway’s glory?

“If only [Mr. Williams] showed the same commitment and passion for the issues that really matter to so many, like keeping libraries open, he wouldn’t face such political backlash,” said Terry Lynch of the Downtown Cluster of Churches.

Yet, the community activist added, “I think we can make [baseball] work for the city.”

We hope. But D.C. taxpayers must attend the upcoming public hearings and ask their public servants pertinent questions that will make this bad financial deal better to benefit all city residents, especially children in poor schools with poor recreational facilities, some of whom were shamelessly used as props during Wednesday’s fanfare.

On the bench, while the gray-haired grown-ups acted like Little Leaguers, sat John Nance and Jerrell Kerns in clean uniforms that their coach, Frazier O’Leary, purchased with $6,000 he raised. The respective catcher and shortstop for the Cardozo High School baseball team, John and Jerrell like the idea of a professional baseball stadium, but they have more pressing needs.

“We don’t have any place to play,” said Jerrell, a junior. “We need to have a stadium in D.C. for high schools,” like the ones they see at suburban schools.

Their “home” games are played on the Banneker Recreation Center field in Northwest, three blocks from Cardozo, and it’s shared with three schools, the coach said.

Mr. O’Leary listed the city’s high-school teams that play baseball on fields that are either designed for other sports or are “really unsafe,” including Coolidge High School’s in Northeast.

Mr. O’Leary had to find money to “buy cups,” as in protective sports gear, for his players. The Cal Ripken Foundation donated gloves, helmets and balls to all the city’s high-school teams because, as Mr. O’Leary pointed out, no city money is available for school athletics.

Today, the baseball coach and English teacher, who got the mayor to upgrade the Banneker field after he called into a local radio show, is trying to raise $20,000 to send his players to a baseball tournament in the Virgin Islands in late March. To date, he has $300.

Still, Mr. O’Leary is optimistic that having a major league baseball team in the District eventually will improve the level of play for the sport throughout the schools.

Most of all, he said, “Selfishly, I hope all the money that comes out of baseball goes to Cardozo to fix up the school,” or to the school system.

“I’m not looking for tickets,” he said. “I’m looking for trickle down, which means [equipment]. … It’s got to be money that filters down. … They have an obligation to the youth of D.C. to provide what they need, and [the new team’s owners] better come over and help us.”

You don’t treat kids to dessert before you feed them dinner. Children die and get into trouble playing with deadly toys when they have no field of dreams nearby.

The deed is done, but the baseball deal is not sealed. The city bears all the risks while Major League Baseball reaps all the benefits for unloading one of the worst teams in the league. There are no guarantees that a local group will get first dibs to buy the team. No guarantees that local fans will get to name the team.

However, we must ask the bigger question: Will the likes of John and Jerrell ever set foot in the future D.C. baseball stadium other than to sit in a free seat or to sell hot dogs? Whether Mayor Marie An-Tony-ette wants to listen, his only acceptable answer is what Coach O’Leary warns: “The money better go down to kids.”

For information about Cardozo’s baseball team call Mr. O’Leary at 202/236-2184. Send donations for the team’s tournament fund, to Cardozo Baseball, care of Frazier O’Leary, 1200 Clifton St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.

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