- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

The baseball obsession of this space was put on hold with the departure of the Senators in 1971, a 34-year sentence that will not be easily reconditioned with the birth of the Nationals.

Matters of the heart take time.

The season is under way, the newly located team is playing in Philadelphia, and refurbished RFK Stadium appears up to the challenge following its dress rehearsal Sunday. We have a team. We will have to wait and see if we have a genuine love affair.

Note to naming-rights pursuers: Be incredibly careful with your endeavor. Starbucks Field at RFK Stadium, for instance, lacks propriety, although it is obvious that Starbucks is taking over the country.

Anyway, the home opener is a week from today, and the city no doubt will respond with a vigor and warmth that should empower the former nomads of baseball.

Yet baseball in Washington, on some level, is going to be a work in progress, at least from this pair of eyes, which followed the home runs of Frank Howard and Mike Epstein and cheered the one-season turnaround forged under the stewardship of Ted Williams.

Frank Robinson, manager of the Nationals, used to be one of the bad guys with the old Orioles, a far stronger team than the Senators ever were. Memories can play tricks on the mind, which is why it seems Boog Powell hit three home runs each time he showed up at the East Capitol playground.

It also was especially annoying to hear the announcer inevitably explain the reaction of the crowd as Powell lumbered to home plate. No, the fans were not booing him. They were going, “Boog, Boog.” We knew already. Then Powell would dispatch the ball over the fence, and the Senators would be down 3-0.

They were mostly a bad team, the Senators were, but they were our team, and that was enough. The Nationals, of course, do not rise to that sense of community ownership yet, and it will be interesting to see how that dynamic evolves after the novelty of a baseball team in the nation’s capital wanes and the losses mount.

At least in the beginning, the Nationals promise to be as inadequate as the Senators, so nothing has changed in that regard.

There is a back-to-the-future feel to this undertaking, with so many around the city taking to wearing the red caps of the team, with the “W” stitching. There is a buzz, too, even if we do not quite know who these guys are.

Is Terrmel Sledge related to Sister Sledge? It was said that pitcher Livan Hernandez was uncharacteristically subpar in the opening game. But you could be fooling so many of us who are trying to get a grip on all these new faces and names.

They do not know us. We do not know them.

A piece of advice to the players if one of our police officers pulls you over and asks you to step out of the vehicle: Do not have an attitude. And do not ask the officer: “Do you know who I am?” The officer will not know you and will not care anyway, and besides, the ploy never worked for Rod Strickland, a basketball player of some distinction who used to exhaust the local law-enforcement agencies.

Of course, the process of getting to know the players would be easier if you ever could figure out this 11th-hour television deal. No wonder the television ratings from the team’s first game packed all the wallop of an infomercial. Who knew the Nationals were on television? As territorial as Peter Angelos has been — claiming Orioles country stretches from suburban Philadelphia to suburban Atlanta — most fans just assumed that only Montreal would have television access to the games involving the Nationals.

Well, one way or another, the city is back in the game, perhaps for good this time, although a few of us are working on breaking a 34-year habit.

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