- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

Directions to RFK: Driving | Metro

This is the day.

This is Christmas in April.

Or putting it another way:

And so it came to pass that on the 12,251st day, the national pastime returned to the nation’s capital.

In the overall scheme of things — births and deaths, famine and floods, war and peace — I know baseball doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

But, my goodness, it sure seems to. At least to me and 45,000 of my fellow fanatics who will be screeching their fool heads off tonight at RFK Stadium.

Wilkerson … Castilla … Guzman … Vidro … Guillen … Schneider … Hernandez … Loaiza … Cordero, both of ‘em.

Go Nats!

I know journalists are supposed to be dispassionate, even-handed and all that. But so what?

Baseball is back.

In our business, this is known as a “gee whiz” column.

Well … gee whiz. I’m entitled — and so is every other fan who spent the last 33 years yearning, hoping and so often despairing.

Before last week’s Opening Day in Philadelphia, a columnist from another Washington newspaper walked up wearing a beatific smile, grabbed my hand and exclaimed, “Isn’t this beautiful? Did you ever think we’d see this day?”

Most of the time, no. Which makes tonight’s order of business between the Nats and Arizona Diamondbacks that much more special.

Think about how much time has passed since the Senators forfeited their final game to the Yankees on Sept. 30, 1971, when fans overran the field with two out in the top of the ninth inning and Washington leading 7-5. Put it on a personal basis like this: On that evil evening, I had been married for three weeks, and now my wife was instantly doomed to hear these words seemingly unto eternity: “Someday we’ll get a team again — I hope.”

Well remembered is the feeling of helplessness and resentment that night toward Bob Short, the cartpetbagging owner who shanghaied the Senators (and Teddy Ballgame, no less) off to Texas. Surely if there is any justice, Short will be whirling in his grave tonight when President Bush throws out the first ball — using the same horsehide, yet, with which Joe Grzenda made his final pitch in 1971.

Mighty slugger Frank Howard will be at RFK, too, and Mickey Vernon, who won two batting titles for the original Senators and managed the expansion club. Howard sent the crowd of 14,460 into paroxysms of joy and tears on the final night in ‘71 when he bashed a pitch from Mike Kekich of the Yankees for his 237th home run in a Washington uniform.

When Kekich left the game in the sixth inning, I invaded the New York clubhouse — there was no attendant on the door for once — and the following dialogue ensued:

“Mike, did you groove that pitch to Hondo?”

“C’mon, man, you aren’t gonna ask me that, are you?”

“I just did.”

“Well … let’s just say I didn’t try too hard to get him out.”

So poignant was Washington’s loss that even a member of the dratted Yankees felt sorry for us.

But now, for those of us who are still around and still care for today’s bloated version of baseball, comes a new beginning. The Nats have been more than respectable so far with that 5-4 record on the road that includes four come-from-behind victories. This team is not yet a contender — in fact, it might finish last in the muscular National League East — but early results show a most appealing blend of true grit and tenacity.

In Frank Robinson, the Nats boast a no-nonsense manager who knows how to wrest the best from ballplayers. Remember his 1989 Baltimore Orioles, who stayed in the American League East until the final weekend after going 54-107 the previous year? That was a miracle, and who can say another won’t be forthcoming with thousands cheering for the Nats every time they stick their snoots onto the greensward at RFK?

Much business remains to be done off the field, like getting the Nats out of Major League Baseball’s greedy clutches and into the hands of an owner who truly cares about the club, the city and the fans. But for now it’s enough to merely have our own team to watch, applaud and perhaps live and die with.

So cup your ear and listen up for the two most wonderful words in all sports:

“Play ball!”

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