- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Nationals’ decision to keep Alfonso Soriano is the most important Washington sports moment since the Redskins stole Sonny Jurgensen from the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964.

Why? The retention of Soriano reflects the Nationals new owners’ genuine appreciation for the culture of Washington, and foreshadows the level of respect that Nationals fans can expect from the Lerner family in the decades to come.

“Washington culture” has kind of a bad connotation around the country. It means bitter partisanship, ugly turf wars over arcane federal regulatory policy, slick lobbyists defending leaky nuclear power plants, and New Jersey politicians who come to D.C. to avoid extradition. This view completely misses the everyday life of people in Dale City, Deanwood, Petworth, Fairfax, American University Park, and Palmer Park — that is, the lives of the vast majority of Washingtonians.

“Washington culture,” of course, means something else to actual Washingtonians: mainly work, family and sports. Those are the three main components of our civic life (well, if you include school in the work category and religion in the sports category). These are the things we care about, the things we do, and the things we mostly talk about. The guys in the flannel shirts and work boots getting coffee at the 7-Eleven on Rhode Island Avenue every morning? They are a huge part of our actual culture, even though their image is missing from the national caricature of life in Washington.

Which is why the decision to keep Soriano is so important to the life of our community.

Think about it. What was the No. 1 one comment Nationals players made about Soriano before the decision? Right. How hard he worked. Then they said he made everyone in the clubhouse feel like family. Did you ever hear the word “family” associated with Michael Jordan while he was in Washington? (OK, yes, you did, but it was always preceded by the words “dysfunctional,” “codependent” or “toxic.”)

Why is it, exactly, that people like Darrell Green, Frank Howard and Brian Mitchell caught on with the people of Washington? They worked hard and made the fans feel like part of their family. It is even true of our sportscasters — just look at D.C. legends Warner Wolf and Glenn Brenner.

Two people have really brought this point home in the last year. One player, one coach. One at the professional level, one at the college level. Two sides of the same optimistic, industrious, familial coin: Gilbert Arenas and Jim Larranaga. We in Washington celebrated them, and then America discovered and embraced them, too. Both have that trademark Sorianic enthusiasm, that Alfonsian smile, that love of their work and their fans. They connected with the people of Washington because they respected the people of Washington.

Cocky, scowling, egocentric ballplayers tend to fail in Washington. Deion Sanders worked out fine in Dallas, and has had a nice run in Baltimore. He simply did not possess the personal characteristics needed to wear the uniform of the Washington Redskins. He symbolized the Redskins’ lost years, when the entire organization forgot who and where they were. Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Pete Rose — none would be welcome here. All would be welcome in Dallas. Remember Denny McLain’s ill-starred tour with the Washington Senators, just prior to prison? It was never going to work. Just as Joe Gibbs in Washington is never going to fail.

Keeping Soriano sends the message that the Lerners understand the special connection between the Washington culture and our sports heroes. They have been here for the great ones, from Walter Johnson to Sugar Ray Leonard; they must see the special, personal characteristics that connect athletes with the regular working people of Washington.

Most parents at RFK would tell their kids to approach their schoolwork with the same enthusiasm Soriano shows every day on the field. When their kids enter the world of work, they might tell them to work as hard as Soriano — before, during and after the game. They might even tell their kids to forget their mistakes as fast as Soriano forgets his strikeouts. These are not lessons every ballplayer can teach.

The chatter-heads at the sports networks are crestfallen that Soriano did not go to the Yankees or Red Sox, because those are the only two teams the networks care to cover. In two years, in the House that Sori Built, those talking heads will be stammering about the dawning years of a Washington baseball dynasty. And that dynasty will be built on the foundation of hard-working players who earn the respect and affection of hard-working Washingtonians.


Mr. Cumberland is the director of communications for a Falls Church consulting firm.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide