- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

There were mascots all over the field before yesterday’s game at RFK Stadium — including, of course, the Nationals’ mascot, Screech.

Also making an appearance, because the Class A Potomac Nationals were on the road, was their mascot, Uncle Slam.

Then there was a third one — someone in a pig suit, a mascot named Ribi, representing the “Red, Hot and Blue” barbecue restaurant at the stadium.

As the July 21 grand re-opening of RFK draws closer, I suspect you’ll see more and more mascots popping up, until each fan has his own personal goofball in a costume.

I thought there was a fourth mascot in the ballpark representing Comcast when I saw some guy sitting in the stands with a Nationals jersey with the name “Angelos” across the back. In front of it appeared to be, on first glance, a four-letter obscenity — except a letter was missing.

It was a Nationals fans exercising his first amendment right to express his disdain for the Orioles owner who made it so difficult to bring baseball to Washington and then strong-armed a deal with Major League Baseball officials to control the Nationals’ television rights.

“I just want to express my feelings about Peter Angelos and the years he spent trying to keep D.C. from getting a team,” said Doug Collica, a 38-year-old lawyer from Arlington. “He once said there are no real baseball fans in D.C. I wanted to show that there are some real fans, and I think everyone here kind of feels the same way about him.

“The TV deal [Angelos’ Mid Atlantic Sports Network] really bugs me, too. I’m a little annoyed at Comcast for not carrying the Nats game, but I am even more annoyed at the deal baseball made with Angelos. I think that’s scandalous.”

Collica said he has worn the jersey to RFK before and never got any complaints about it, from either fans or stadium management.

“I was wearing it for Orioles games when they played here, and even some Orioles fans said they felt the same way,” he said.

Collica said he was never an Orioles fan. He said he was a Phillies fan — yesterday’s Nationals opponent — until he moved to the Washington area 13 years ago. “I’m a Nationals fan now,” he said.

He may be the mascot of Nationals fans, because Collica’s jersey probably illustrates the deep resentment fans still have for the Orioles’ owner and will continue to have until they can watch most of their games on television. But it remains unresolved, as the Lerner-Kasten ownership group — or is it the Lerner group and the Kasten group? — battles city officials over parking garages.

Let’s hope that gets resolved soon. Then maybe the new owners will set up television cameras at the construction site — call it the Garage Network — so Nationals fans have at least something connected to the team to watch while the majority of their games remain blacked out.

Who will be the parking garage’s mascot? Tony Williams doing anything when he leaves office?

They really didn’t need mascots or any other distractions at RFK yesterday. The baseball was good enough, and it has been that way lately. Jose Guillen made his first start since coming off the disabled list, and got the crowd of more than 30,000 going early with a two-run double in the third inning to stake Washington to a 2-0 lead.

Fans were on their feet as Guillen came around to score on a double by Nick Johnson that sailed over the head of Pat Burrell (who, speaking of mascots and clowns, played left field like Max Patkin while he was here in Washington). And they gave rookie reliever Bill Bray a standing ovation as he came off the field after striking out Ryan Howard with two outs and two men on base in the eighth inning, on their way to a 6-0 win.

With the best record (17-7) in either league in the past three-plus weeks, these are good days at the ballpark. And that could carry over to the July 21 grand re-opening. Young pitchers Mike O’Connor and Shawn Hill (who gave up no runs and just two hits over seven innings yesterday) are found money, and if John Patterson returns to pitch like he did last year, this team probably isn’t going south anytime soon — at least not on its own.

“We’re coming together as a ballclub,” said Robert Fick, who had the game-winning hit Friday night and added an eighth-inning solo home run yesterday.

But the new owners could change all that, come the July 31 trading deadline, if they move the now-beloved Alfonso Soriano and other veterans for prospects needed to build up the depleted farm system and embark on Stan Kasten’s player development quest.

If that happens, they will need an army of mascots — and a few illusionists and medics as well — at RFK to help a very unhappy fan base through the final two months of the season.

I wonder whether Lerner-Kasten will fit on the back of a Nationals jersey?

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