- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

To protest or not to protest? To boycott or not to boycott? These are the questions for the Washington Nationals’ historic home opener.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has let it be known that he worships at the altar of the American pastime, has likened the baseball attendance dilemma to the heights of a Shakespearean play.

?They ought to chill out and just come out to the game,? Mr. Williams said of detractors, such as some D.C. Council members who said they would boycott the game. ?We’re all getting so wrapped up in this stuff, like it’s some Shakespearean drama or something.?

Excuse me? Wasn’t it a whiny Williams who publicly proclaimed ?if there is a God? the council would pass the legislation to build an unnecessarily expensive baseball stadium for billionaires?

Wasn’t it his one-and-only mission to establish a legacy by bringing baseball back to the District after a 34-year absence to fatten the pockets of his well-heeled cronies, despite the city’s persistent problems of poor schools, libraries and recreational facilities?

Didn’t rabid baseball supporters — mostly suburbanites but also supposedly objective journalists — act as if the Washington Nationals were the ?Second Coming??

Who knew that the Holy Grail could be found at the end of a wooden stick and a hard white ball? Would baseball worshippers be singing ?we should all get along? if more reasonable heads had prevailed and baseball’s return been postponed to secure a better financial deal?

Not hardly.

While it’s hard to resist the historic and histrionic hype, some folks are justifiably having a hard time joining in the hullabaloo.

As a baseball fan and history buff, I welcome witnessing a historic change. However, I have a hard time stomaching this lopsided baseball deal that has so many strikeouts in it that the long-term results of this fool’s folly might very well prove to be a shutout for the city, especially for those who can’t afford a $7 ticket.

You must ask what the trade-off for that ticket is.

Council member David A. Catania, like fellow council member Marion Barry, said he would not go to yesterday’s home opener as a matter of principle. They did not feel they could attend when they do not support the financing package for the new stadium that Major League Baseball insisted upon.

On Good Friday, Mr. Catania and Mr. Barry visited the city’s detoxification center, which is on the D.C. General grounds near RFK Stadium.

?To say it was like a Soviet-era gulag would be to disparage a Soviet-era gulag,? Mr. Catania said. ?We ask people to try to reclaim their lives in such squalor and without resources, and I’m supposed to walk across the street and celebrate this ridiculous expenditure of money??

He is particularly upset about the state of the city’s health clinics and 100-year-old school buildings ?that haven’t seen a paintbrush in decades but we can spend $20 million revamping a 40-year-old stadium.?

Mr. Catania said he grew up being a baseball fan, but no longer. He cannot support ?an industry that takes advantage of its position on foolish politicians.?

?You will not find me sitting in the stands grinning myself silly under the circumstances,? he said.

Instead, he planned to give his tickets to ex-offenders, but the tickets were never sent.

What’s really telling and sad is how many D.C. residents I’ve heard say they are totally uninterested in baseball or are still angry about the financing package.

Not surprising that the D.C. Public School Full Funding Campaign and the Empowering Youth Alliance is protesting the city expenditures, including nearly $20 million for renovating RFK Stadium.

From my informal polling, I discovered that I don’t know a single soul among my circle of acquaintances who actually planned to attend the opening. According to the Washington Afro-American, half the ?community people? they surveyed still want no part of it. Those are folks Mr. Barry represents.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp told me Wednesday that she was going to be front and center at the home opener despite her serious and warranted reservations that nearly killed the baseball deal.

A dubious deal, as predicted, that is turning out to be more costly than the mayor predicted.

Instead of being booed, as Mrs. Cropp unfairly was during the April 3 exhibition, she should be cheered by baseball fans. It was her critical vote in the end that made yesterday’s opener possible, after all.

As she sought, private investors are putting development deals on the table to be considered that might lower city businesses’ and taxpayers’ costs. ?There’s still a lot of work to be done,? Mrs. Cropp said, as evidenced by all the last-minute snags and logistics that needed to be fixed before hearing ?play ball.?

But she agrees with the mayor and other council colleagues. ?I’m going to set [political and development issues] aside for the opening game and go out and root for the home team.?

By the way, the Shakespearean question was never answered: To protest or not, to boycott or not, to ?chill? or not? I guess it’s a matter of whether to be or not to be on one’s own priorities and values.

After all, it’s only a baseball game.

Or is it?

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