- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2006

The drama kings of Major League Baseball are bringing up the curtain for Act 2 of their entertainment of the nation’s capital.

Since the end of the last season, one has to wonder whether the Washington Nationals — and their owners, all the other teams in both the American and National leagues, with the members of the D.C. government as a supporting cast — were staging a farce, a comedy or a tragedy.

But after a series of travails that put the Perils of Pauline to shame, the Nationals are managing to stumble to Monday’s opening day.

Of course, it will be on the road; in New York against the Mets. As a matter of fact, it will be more than a week before the Nationals get to play at home.

Long gone are the days when the president threw out the first pitch in Washington for the official opening of the baseball season. This year, George W. Bush will take his curve ball out of town for his first pitch this year.

And another matter of fact: The first game of the Major League season will be Sunday when the victors of last season’s World Series, the Chicago White Sox, play host to the Cleveland Indians.

But back to the Nationals. On the baseball side, their off-season highlight was the acquisition by trade of a second All Star second baseman, Alfonso Soriano, from the Texas Rangers. Most teams would be satisfied with one All Star at any one position.

Not to worry: The answer is to force Soriano, kicking and screaming, to move to left field. The result is an unhappy guy in the outfield and at second base a player who physically may not last halfway through the season, although Jose Vidro is the tough-minded performer that kept the Nationals competitive last season and before that, the Expos during their dying days in Montreal.

And to get Soriano, the Nationals gave away another tough-minded, good-character player — Brad Wilkerson. It was a deal that only a general manager desperate to make a move — any move — could like.

On the business side, the clash of posturing, ego-driven D.C. Council members and the greedy barons of the baseball establishment finally came to an end with an agreement on the financing of a shiny new baseball stadium — apparently from sheer exhaustion rather than any meeting of the minds, much less any good will.

From the drawings, it looks as though it has been designed to appeal to the hordes of lobbyists infesting K Street, if no one else.

At least, however, we can look forward to the selection of an owner who will have as a prime goal turning the Nationals into a successful franchise, as opposed to the current situation.

We can hope that the new owner’s first effort will be to pry the hands of the Ogre of the Inner Harbor from the throat of the Nationals. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos has done his best to strangle the Washington team at birth. A new owner may be able to back him off and force such things as an equitable solution for television broadcasting and revenue.

Despite all these shenanigans, the fact is that as soon as the first pitch of the Nationals’ second season is thrown, the fans will be back on their feet cheering. If the team plays as hard as it did last year, if it can remain competitive for a good part of the season, then it will be another good year for Washington.

And this season we will have the added hope that in the not-too-distant future this will turn into a normal franchise with only the game itself to lead us on.

Now it’s time to “Play ball.”

Stroube Smith, a former copy editor for The Washington Times, is a free-lance writer.

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