- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

ANAHEIM, Calif. — They’re getting love from local fans, who have been turning out to RFK Stadium in impressive numbers. They’re starting to get love from the national media now that they’re a first-place ballclub.

The national fan base? Well, let’s just say the Washington Nationals haven’t exactly lived up to their nickname yet.

The latest All-Star Game balloting results were revealed yesterday by Major League Baseball, and again no Nationals players were listed among the top five vote-getters at any position.

“I’m not surprised,” manager Frank Robinson said before last night’s game against the Los Angeles Angels.

Surprised, no. Disappointed, yes.

The Nationals may have thrust themselves into the national spotlight with their 10-game winning streak, which came to an unseemly end Monday night in an 11-1 loss to the Angels. But they haven’t won the hearts of the millions of fans who vote their favorite players into the All-Star Game every summer.

Perhaps that’s because most Nationals fans are new to this whole thing. In St. Louis, they have been stuffing all-Cardinals ballots into the boxes for decades. In Washington, they haven’t had a hometown player to vote for since Frank Howard in 1971.

“It starts with your home fans,” Robinson said. “They have to vote and vote and vote and vote, and this being the first year, I don’t know if they understand what it takes to try to get your players elected to the All-Star Game.”

The latest voting results would appear to back him up. The Nationals have no one listed among the top five vote-getters at any of the infield positions or catcher and no one among the top 15 vote-getters in the outfield.

Contrast that with the Cardinals, the only team in the National League that entered play last night with a better record than Washington. All eight St. Louis regulars made the weekly leader board yesterday, including third baseman Scott Rolen, who’s batting .257 with five homers and has been out since May 10 with a shoulder injury.

“People a lot of times get that sheet and pick whatever names they recognize on there instead of looking at stats,” Nationals catcher Brian Schneider said. “But the All-Star Game is about who the fans want to see, and if they want to see those players, that’s who they’re going to vote for.”

So it is that Washington, despite its place atop the NL East, is relegated to the company of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers and (surprisingly) San Francisco Giants as the only teams in the league without anyone in the top five.

Then again, there’s probably only one Nationals position player who legitimately has a strong case to be in Detroit for this year’s game: first baseman Nick Johnson.

Johnson carried a .330 batting average (fourth in the NL), eight homers and 38 RBI into last night’s game. All-Star numbers, to be sure, but probably not good enough to beat out fellow NL first basemen Derrek Lee (.377, 17 homers, 53 RBI) and Albert Pujols (.322-15-49).

“Nick’s having an All-Star season right now,” outfielder Brad Wilkerson said. “But it’s a tough position to make it.”

NL manager Tony La Russa has to take someone from Washington’s roster, though, and it appears likely that person will come from a pitching staff that has the league’s sixth-best ERA.

The obvious choice is Livan Hernandez, who went into last night’s start against the Angels with a 9-2 record, 3.35 ERA and an ever-growing reputation as the game’s pre-eminent workhorse. Hernandez was the Expos’ lone representative in 2004, and he would be a worthy flag-bearer for the Nationals in 2005.

There are others, though. How about closer Chad Cordero, who leads the majors with 19 saves and has a 1.13 ERA?

“Oh, my God,” Cordero gushed when asked about the possibility yesterday. “I can’t worry about that. It would be nice, though.”

Whoever gets the call when rosters are announced at the end of the month should plan on making some new friends in Detroit. In all likelihood, he’s going to be the only player in town wearing a Nationals uniform, first-place club or not.

“That’s the way it works,” Schneider said. “It’s no insult, because the fans vote who they want. But if you look at this realistically, there’s no reason why this team shouldn’t have three guys selected.”


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