Monday, April 3, 2006

Good morning, and welcome to the greatest day of the year: Opening Day! Sure, there’s plenty of negatives about the Nationals to dwell on just read the questions below but that can’t rain on our parade today (though it may rain at Shea Stadium).

No, Opening Day is supposed to be all about good vibes, the renewal of spring, the belief that your favorite team has just as much shot at winning the World Series as anyone else. …

But first, one last taste of reality. The Nationals are in trouble. They just completed a miserable spring, and the trip north didn’t even help things out (see: Pedro Astacio, DL). So on that sour note, let’s move on to this week’s Q&A session. As always, send your questions to (And please, please, please include your full name. We can’t run them otherwise!)

Q: Same as everyone else’s question, I’m sure: Will the Nationals trade Soriano? If so, when and to whom? — Jeff Ganeles

A: Yes, this is one of the more popular questions, but we haven’t formally addressed it here yet, so let’s give it a shot.

While Nationals general manager Jim Bowden fielded plenty of calls from other GMs interested in acquiring Alfonso Soriano this spring, he simply wasn’t satisfied with what he would have gotten in return. Bowden’s in a bit of a Catch-22 here: Everyone knows Soriano’s unhappy playing left field in Washington, so they think they can trade for him on the cheap. Bowden, though, knows his reputation is at stake here, and he can’t afford to let a disgruntled player go without getting something of consequence in return.

There’s another factor in this complicated equation: Only about five or six teams in baseball are even capable of taking on Soriano’s $10 million contract at this point, so that limits Bowden’s potential trade partners. Now, fast forward four months or so to the July 31 trade deadline, when the Nationals already have paid half of Soriano’s contract, and there could be more suitors.

So to answer your original question, Jeff, the Nationals (unless they’re in a pennant race) will probably try to trade Soriano later on this summer, hoping to get a legitimate prospect or two in return.

Q: Is the playing field situation at RFK Stadium going to be the same this season, sharing the facility with D.C. United? From the upper deck, we could see bare dirt as the sod got worn out by August. Also the soccer field markings were kind of a distraction to us “baseball purists.” One last thing: Does anyone else out there besides me still love “old RFK,” with our unique humped roof and bouncing stands? You can have your new modern stadiums, but I still love RFK. — Dennis Goode

A: Yes, the Nationals and D.C. United will be sharing RFK again this season (and next), but club officials are hoping it’s a much smoother co-existence. With a year of experience, everyone has a better idea how this whole thing works.

And, perhaps more importantly, the Nationals hired a new groundskeeper this winter, Larry DiVito, who seems to have made some significant changes to the place. Team president Tony Tavares went into great detail Friday night during the exhibition game about the new RFK turf (full Bermuda grass instead of a Bermuda-rye mix), the new infield and mound clay and the new drainage system. So hopefully the whole playing surface will look and react better in 2006 than it did in 2005.

As for your love of “old RFK,” Dennis … sure, I suppose the place has some charm, if you want to call it that. The bouncing stands are cool (in fact, I’ve heard the designers of the new stadium are looking for ways to include that trait), and you can’t beat the sightlines, even from the upper deck. But who are we kidding: RFK is well past her prime, and while you might miss some of her quirks, something tells me you will appreciate the wider concourses, better food, cleaner seats and better sound/scoreboard system at the new place. Not to mention the view of the Capitol dome.

Q: It seems the ticket delivery and distribution situation is no better for the Nationals this season and that they are blaming their fiascos on their new vendor, (which handles many baseball teams around the country). Don’t the Nationals have an experienced ticket operations person with a plan, checks and balances? Have you ever heard of this happening to other teams? — RFK Section 314, Row 8

A: Normally we don’t accept submissions unless you supply your full name, but this reader brings up a good subject, one that caused headaches for a lot of fans at Friday night’s exhibition.

Apparently, those who bought their tickets online (through the Nationals’ new distributor) were unable to print them out from their home computers. That led to incredibly long lines at the RFK will call Friday, leading to thousands of fans arriving late for the game.

It was a fiasco, no question about it. And it shouldn’t be tolerated. It won’t be. Tony Tavares himself insisted that if the problem isn’t solved by the Nationals’ home opener next week, he will change ticket distributors. Something tells me they will get this straightened out.

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