- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

Winter finally has arrived, and so has caravan season.

The Washington Nationals caravan arrives Monday to kick off an eight-day tour, starting in the District, with stops in Bowie, Bethesda, Hagerstown, Manassas, Richmond and Virginia Beach before finishing in the District on Jan. 29.

It’s not exactly the Beatles. Heck, it’s not even be the Bay City Rollers.

The tour features new Nationals manager Manny Acta and three players — Ryan Zimmerman, Nook Logan and pitcher Mike O’Connor. Three players with five total years of major league experience.

But, as Marty Schottenheimer would say, “It is what it is.”

These are your Washington Nationals, circa 2007.

Zimmerman is the face of the team now, and heck, he lives just a few hours away. I’m not sure how they convinced Logan. And poor O’Connor, this is what he gets for being from Ellicott City, Md. He was also the featured act at the Class A Potomac Nationals Fanfest in December. When there was no word coming from the Nationals about the details of the caravan, I jokingly asked someone in the organization if they were waiting for O’Connor to have a free week. Guess he finally cleared his calendar.

But that’s not all. Screech the mascot will make the trip, as will radio announcers Charlie Slowes and Dave Jageler, as well as a Hall of Famer — the newest television addition, Don Sutton.

The stars, though, will be the racing president mascots, who became a hit last year. They might want to add racing vice presidents, secretaries of state and a few other cabinet members as well this year, anything to divert attention from the field.

This will be fun for local baseball fans, who last winter spent their time on the D.C. Council caravan, which was misery on parade. And before that, their winters were spent being used and abused by Major League Baseball in a quest to try to bring a team back to the District. So a couple of RFK groundskeepers and John Wetteland setting off firecrackers would be a welcome baseball caravan in Washington.

But as the Nationals caravan pulls into town, Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin’s caravan leaves for Dallas to start the NHL’s three-day All-Star celebration. It will feature the first pairing of the league’s two new stars, Ovechkin and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, as starters on the Eastern Conference team.

Remarkably, in places like Ottawa, Toronto and throughout Europe, this will be a much bigger deal than it is here in Washington. Fans in the District are so caught up in Gilbert Arenas fever that the city hasn’t grasped that one of the NHL’s best players plays for the hometown team. They know it in Canada, where fans look forward to Ovechkin’s visits.

Have you noticed that Ontario’s biggest pizza chain, Pizza Pizza, advertises at Verizon Center?

The Ovechkin caravan must extend its schedule to the Stanley Cup playoffs for District sports fans to get on board.

Maybe they can pick up a few stray golf fans.

With the 2007 PGA Tour schedule under way, every event is a reminder that Tim Finchem’s golf caravan won’t be stopping in Washington. But Jimmy Garvin’s golf caravan is alive and well, and getting stronger with each passing year.

Garvin is president of Langston Legacy Golf Corp., which operates the historic Langston Golf Course. He also oversees several youth golf programs that give hundreds of minorities a chance to play. Garvin returned this week from Freeport, Bahamas, where he took 20 local children to compete against children from the Bahamas junior golf program. The money came from various fund-raising efforts undertaken by Garvin and others who mentor youths through golf at Langston.

He has been running this caravan for several years, as well as the Bahamas group coming to the District in July to compete at Langston.

“We try to take kids that might never get the opportunity to do this,” Garvin said. “We didn’t win, but the experience was great. One thing we did this time was give three scholarships to the Bahamian kids. Part of our vision is to not just help kids who are part of our personal story, but also those kids that we come into contact with that need some support.”

Now that’s a winter caravan that will warm your heart and soul.

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