- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tony Tavares sounded just a little apologetic over the telephone yesterday when he was asked for his reaction to a comment from Major League Baseball senior VP Katy Feeney that the Nationals will not regularly open future seasons at home.

“I’m not local, and I wasn’t aware that it was traditional for Washington teams to open at home,” said the Nationals’ president, who took that role with the Montreal Expos in 2002 and accompanied the MLB-owned franchise here last fall. “I’d like to say I gave the matter of whether we should open at home deep consideration, but to be honest it never entered my mind.”

Nor perhaps should it have. It would be easy to rap Tavares for his limited knowledge of D.C. baseball, but that would be unfair. Like most other front-office officials with the club, he has been focused solely on the present. And because he might be out of a job when the team is sold to a permanent ownership gang, he has no reason to cuddle up to the District’s checkered baseball past.

Yet this episode points out once more the need for local ownership when the club is sold. Clark Griffith, who managed and then owned the original Senators from 1912 to 1955, might not have been the wisest or most generous owner in baseball history. But Washington was Griff’s adopted hometown, and he understood what the team meant to the city and several generations of fans.

By contrast, look what happened when Bob Short, a political wheeler-dealer from Minnesota, scrounged up enough dough to buy the expansion Senators in 1969. Three Short years later, he and the ballclub were operating in someplace called Arlington, Texas.

Like everybody else, I don’t know what ownership group will buy the Nationals from MLB — except that it should be Fred Malek’s Washington Baseball Club or Bill Collins’ Northern Virginians. These are the two conglomerates that have worked longest and hardest to return baseball to the area, and one of them should be rewarded. Another carpetbagger we don’t need.

Supposedly, local ownership is one of the major criteria MLB is weighing. I guess the suits at 245 Park Ave., Noo Yawk, can’t be wrong all the time.

That doesn’t mean we’ll get Opening Day back, of course. It’s the native Washingtonians and longtime fans like me, and possibly you, who are muttering and sputtering because MLB isn’t honoring our more or less divine right to lose the first game played every spring.

The Nationals did not open at home this year, won’t do so in 2006 and might never do so on a regular basis. Feeney says the National League’s “traditional opener” is in Cincinnati, home of the first professional team in 1869, and will continue as such. This means a member of, say, Cincy’s city council could be throwing out first pitches instead of President Bush and his successors.

Be still my heart!

MLB blew it big time by allowing 34 years to elapse without a club representing the national pastime in the nation’s capital, and now commissioner Bud Selig and his minions are set to do it again. As former D.C. sportscaster Warner Wolf might have put it, that’s a big fat Boo of the Week. Or maybe Boo of the Year.

But, hey, what in the name of Pete Rose is wrong with having two traditional openers? For most of the 20th century, the Senators and Reds always started at home. When the schedule called for them to open on the road, the two clubs would stage home openers a day ahead of everybody else. And a great time was had by all.

There is nothing to prevent the Chief Executive from appearing at the first game in Washington whenever it occurs, as President Bush did last April after the Nats had played nine games on the road. But that just isn’t the same.

Before Short skedaddled off to Texas, the script was always the same: Spring in Washington meant cherry blossoms, tourists and the president opening the baseball season. It’s hard to “open” anything when it takes place in the third, sixth or ninth game.

Here’s a free suggestion for the Nationals’ new owners, whoever they may be: lean on MLB to restore Washington’s traditional day in the sun each April.

Lean real hard.

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