- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Charlie Brotman plunked his wiry frame into one of four dark green wooden seats in the basement of his Takoma Park home and caressed its arm lovingly.

“These are the seats from the presidential box at Griffith Stadium, and each is only 14 inches wide,” he said. “Makes you wonder how [300-plus pounds] President Taft got into one of them. Maybe he needed two.”

Nearby stood four rows of refinished bleacher planks from Griffith, home of two Washington Senators franchises from 1910 to 1961 and demolished in 1965. Nowadays such artifacts might bring thousands of dollars on EBay. Brotman, then the expansion club’s promotions director and involved with baseball in Washington since 1956, got the seats for nothing because nobody else wanted them.

At 77, District native Brotman is only one of many people who had a connection to one or both previous franchises and think the latest one should have hit town a long time ago. When the Nationals play the Arizona Diamondbacks in their home opener the night of April 14 at RFK Stadium, it will be the first major league game in the nation’s capital since Sept. 30, 1971.

Mickey Vernon, 86, who won two American League batting championships with the original Senators (1946 and 1953) and managed the expansion club from 1961 to 1963, will be one of the former Washington players taking part in ceremonies before the home opener.

“It will be very exciting to have baseball back in Washington,” Vernon said from his home in Media, Pa. “I don’t remember much about the first game the expansion team played in 1961 — all I know is, we lost [4-3 to the Chicago White Sox in the last opener at Griffith Stadium]. I just hope the Nationals have better luck in their first season than we did.” The ‘61 Senators finished last with a 61-100 record.

Tom Brown, a multi-sport star at Silver Spring’s Montgomery Blair High School and the University of Maryland, started the 1963 opener at first base for the Senators as a 22-year-old professional rookie after hitting .312 in spring training. He went hitless, batted just .147 in 61 games all told and re-emerged the following year as a starting defensive back for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers.

“I’ll never forget starting that first game with a team I had always rooted for,” said Brown, who now runs sports programs for children in Salisbury, Md. “When the Senators presented President Kennedy with his season pass, he said, “I’ll throw out the first ball if that kid from Maryland starts at first base on Opening Day. What a thrill that was, too.”

Jim Hartley, editor of the Nats News newsletter, will join 70 other fans on a bus to Philadelphia for the Nationals’ first road game tomorrow.

“The opener in Washington will be absolutely emotional for me, but so is the game in Philly,” said Hartley, who lives in Darnestown. “When the Phillies sent me the block of tickets and they said ‘Washington at Philadelphia,’ it hit me that, wow, this is really happening.”

Miller Young of Damascus is the great-grandson of Nick Young, president of the National League from 1885 to 1892, but that won’t help him get a choice seat for the RFK opener.

“I’ll probably be on top of the Goodyear blimp, but it will feel good just being there,” Young said. “Baseball adds something to my life emotionally that’s been missing for a long time.”

Clark Griffith — a Minneapolis lawyer and the son of former Senators owner Calvin Griffith, who moved the team to Minnesota in 1960 — said he isn’t sure he can make the RFK opener but plans to attend other games here, “absolutely, certainly.”

Griffith, whose namesake grandfather first managed and then owned the Senators from 1912 until his death in 1955, has said he never understood why his father abandoned the nation’s capital.

Two people who won’t be there, perhaps inexplicably, are Eddie Johnson of Dickerson and Carolyn Johnson Thomas of the District, the surviving children of Senators pitching immortal Walter Johnson.

“I’m not disappointed over not being invited by the Nationals, just excited about the team,” said Thomas, who at 82 is six years younger than her brother. “I’m happy to watch on TV, and I just want to hang around long enough to see the Nationals beat the Orioles and Peter Angelos in a World Series.”

Another person who perhaps should have been invited is Baseball Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Wolff, the radio and television voice of the Senators from 1946 to 1960. Wolff expects to be in town for the home opener although he has worked in the greater New York area for more than 40 years.

“I feel a great emotional attachment to Washington,” said Wolff. “I’m a New Yorker by birth, but I got my first career break in Washington, my children were born there and so many other important things in my life took place there. It’s really my home.”

For people with ties to baseball in Washington, Opening Day at RFK will represent a welcome new beginning. Charlie Brotman, who will be behind the mike again for next week’s inaugural, put it very well: “It has been nearly 50 years since my first opener as P.A. announcer at Griffith Stadium in 1956 and, hey, I’m still around. It will be fun, very memorable — and, yes, a little unbelievable.”

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