- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2007

On an encouragingly mild February afternoon, a flock of true believers gathered in solemn convocation yesterday at Concord-St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Bethesda. The session had nothing to do with religion or faith — unless you consider baseball a religion and have faith the Washington Nationals can escape last place in the National League East this season.

“We pray for the Nats because we know they need a lot of help,” said pastor Bruce Jones, invoking divine assistance. “We pray that they stay healthy, that Nick Johnson’s leg heals, that they find some starting pitchers …”

To which manager Manny Acta, had he been on the premises rather than a thousand miles south in Viera, Fla., undoubtedly would have added, “Amen, brother!”

Jones is among 16 members of the Washington Nationals Syndicate who convene each year to allot individual games from the group’s four season tickets in Row 3 behind first base at RFK Stadium. And lest there be any doubt, this is very serious business.

These folks are baseball fanatics, the kind who love to share sacred memories of the days when the old Senators cavorted, sort of, at Griffith Stadium and RFK. Senior citizens among them are delighted to have outlived the nation capital’s inexcusable 33-season rounders drought. Others are happy simply to stick it to Peter Angelos, the blasted barrister who has destroyed baseball in Baltimore and tried his darndest to do so in Washington.

“He took us for granted,” muttered Ray Kimball, a professor at Montgomery College and one of the syndicate’s founders. “My son Peter is aghast that I’ve changed allegiances from the Orioles to the Nats — he still takes me to games at Camden Yards. But I tell him this isn’t just about baseball. It’s about friends and beer and sharing.”

Kimball and Harvey Wise, a retired CEO, used to be part of a similar group that parceled out Orioles tickets. When the Nationals began play two years ago, the two men recruited friends for a D.C. version. Foreign Service officer Donald Camp and CPA Bill Clinton — no, not that one — agreed to become co-founders. Others speedily signed up.

Such combines have become common throughout the area and nation because very few fans can afford the money or time to attend 81 home games a season. The way Washington’s Gang of 16 works it, a member gets four tickets to each of five games. (Kimball and Wise reserve Opening Day for themselves as a justifiable award for organizing the whole thing.)

Yesterday’s session featured a lottery to determine the order of selection, with numbers being plucked from a Nats cap, and a “snake draft” (which may or may not refer to Angelos). The 16th and last person in the pecking order, Joe DeNoiyor, was given a Chad Cordero bobblehead as sort of a Lucky Loser’s prize.

Shortly after Kimball and Keith Fagan offered “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on a pair of musical keyboards to start the proceedings, Ray found himself with selection No. 1. He picked a May 19 game against the Orioles.

How much do these guys hate the O’s? When Fagan’s turn came at No. 2, he tabbed and grabbed a game the following day against Baltimore. These people probably are too dignified to hang Angelos in effigy at RFK — but you never know.

At No. 13, Winston Wiley opted for the last home game of the season Sunday, Sept. 23, against Philadelphia. Either Wiley hates watching the Redskins on TV or he is confident the Nats won’t be staggering under a 100-plus loss load by then.

The San Francisco Giants will pay only one visit to RFK this season, but tickets for the three games Aug. 31, and Sept. 1-2 were snatched up by Wise, Jones and Sue Foord. One of them could get very lucky if Barry Bonds waits until then to swat home run No. 756, regretfully relegating Henry Aaron to second place on the all-time dinger list.

And so it went, with the whole thing being finished in about an hour. Most of the syndicate members won’t come face to face again until next winter, when they’ll convene to do it all over for the 2008 season.

“Hey!” chirped Camp. “How are we going to handle postseason tickets this fall?”

O ye of too much faith.


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