- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

If the Washington Nationals get their way, Monday’s opening game at New York’s Shea Stadium will be the last time they begin the season on the road.

The club has asked Major League Baseball to let it open every season at home, as was the tradition for both editions of the Washington Senators for most of the 20th century. A senior MLB official said yesterday the Nationals “probably” will start the 2007 season at RFK Stadium.

During their inaugural season, the Nationals opened in Philadelphia and didn’t play at RFK for 10 days thereafter. This season’s home opener is scheduled for April 11, eight days after the team’s first game.

Katy Feeney, MLB’s senior vice president for scheduling and club relations, said she could not guarantee the Nationals will open every season at home but said: “We’ll try to accommodate them whenever possible.”

Nationals president Tony Tavares said the team has requested to open the season at home “year in and year out,” which both editions of the Washington Senators routinely did before the expansion club left for Texas after the 1971 season.

“We want to re-establish that tradition,” Tavares said. “We understand that the National League has a commitment to opening the season in Cincinnati, but we’d like to share that tradition. The commissioner [Bud Selig] has been very supportive, and now he and Katy Feeney have to work out the logistics.”

For decades, baseball seasons started with the president throwing out the first ball at the American League opener in Washington.

Meanwhile, the National League traditionally opened with a game in Cincinnati, home of the first professional team in 1869. Often the Senators and Reds had the entire schedule to themselves. On other occasions, the two teams would open along with other clubs — but they always would open at home.

In 1910, William Howard Taft became the first president to throw the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day in Washington, although it didn’t become an annual ritual until two years later. Every subsequent president through Richard Nixon threw out the first pitch at least once.

“We certainly will try to have the Nationals open at home when possible, but there are a lot of factors involved,” Feeney said. “It’s true that the old American League opener traditionally was in Washington, but Cincinnati has been the traditional National League opener since before there was even a team in Washington.”

Feeney also noted that the Nationals “may not want to open at home when they open their new stadium [scheduled for 2008]. They may request extra time to put on the finishing touches.”

Last week Feeney cited various reasons why it would not be feasible for the Nationals to open at home on a regular basis, telling the Baltimore Sun: “Things aren’t as simple as they used to be.”

More teams and more divisions have complicated the scheduling process. Also, increased concerns about presidential security have made it unlikely the chief executive could be at each season opener.

President Bush threw out the first ball at the Nationals’ home opener last season, but the Sun reported that he has a scheduling conflict with this season’s RFK debut. He is expected to make the first toss Monday in Cincinnati before the Reds open against the Chicago Cubs.

Following the departure of the Senators, several presidents threw out the first ball at Baltimore’s Camden Yards. At the first game there in 1992, President George H.W. Bush — once a varsity player at Yale — bounced his pitch from the mound to the plate and recoiled in mock horror. Bill Clinton and the current President Bush also threw out the first pitch in Baltimore.

“But absolutely the Nationals should open the season at home,” said Charlie Brotman, a public address announcer for the Senators as well as for many Inaugural parades. “If we’re talking about the national pastime and the president of the United States, I can’t conceive of the opening game being anywhere except the nation’s capital.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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