- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

The Washington Nationals, for all the high drama surrounding the club the last six months, have been largely a local affair. That all changes tonight with the Nationals’ series finale against the New York Mets, an ESPN “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast that marks the franchise’s first nationally televised regular-season game since moving to the District.

As befitting one of the network’s signature products, the game will feature more than two dozen cameras, ESPN’s exclusive K-Zone graphics, and the front-line announcing team of Jon Miller, Joe Morgan and reporter Sam Ryan. The additional packaging marks a distinct step up from the Nationals’ two appearances to date in alternate games on ESPN’s Monday night regional coverage.

Local fans grumbled about ESPN’s priorities when it chose a New York-Boston clash as its featured national game April14 instead of the Nationals’ home opener, the first regular-season game in the nation’s capital since 1971. But when the network was plotting its early-season broadcast schedule in January and early February there was not yet total assurance RFK Stadium would be ready for both baseball and several full-throttle television production crews.

Instead ESPN took a safer route by waiting a couple of extra weeks to show the Nationals and selecting a matchup that includes the big-market Mets instead of 2004 cellar-dweller Arizona. Network producers are planning an extensive series of features and vignettes to run during the game that chronicle Washington’s baseball history and the roller-coaster series of events that brought the Montreal Expos to the District.

“This is going to be World Series-caliber coverage. We’re going to show things that you just don’t see on the everyday broadcast,” said Tim Scanlan, ESPN senior coordinating producer. “This is definitely a big game for us. The Nationals are playing well, and we have a lot of stories to tell during the course of the evening.”

For Miller, the game represents an obvious homecoming. He was, of course, a celebrated and beloved announcer for the Baltimore Orioles for 14 years, and called several Orioles exhibition games from RFK. Before that, Miller was the voice of the Washington Diplomats of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in the 1970s.

“It’s very exciting to be coming back to Washington, particularly to RFK,” Miller said. “That was really the start of the symmetrical multipurpose stadiums, and now it’s more or less survived them all. We have a very unique opportunity to tell the country about these players, people like Brad Wilkerson and Cristian Guzman. This team, I think, is still anonymous to most people around the country. These guys have been laboring in obscurity.”

Beyond running through an extended who’s-who of the Nationals’ roster, ESPN producers are planning discussions of RFK’s retractable pitching mound, the tortured fight last fall to approve financing for the Nationals’ forthcoming stadium in Southeast, and their surprisingly strong start on the field. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be squeezing all this data in and around a three-hour game.

Also on deck for tonight: an in-game interview with Nationals manager Frank Robinson, which could serve as something of an olive branch considering Robinson’s recent complaints about the club not getting proper exposure on “SportsCenter,” and plenty of shots of the bouncing stands along the third-base line.

“We’re very pumped about seeing that again. The stands are going to be a great visual,” said Tom Archer, game producer for “Sunday Night Baseball,” and a lifelong Washington Redskins fan. “We have our cameras absolutely ready for that as soon as they start rocking.”

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