- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2008

With the Baltimore Orioles visiting last night for the dress rehearsal exhibition game for the new ballpark, it seemed fitting to recall another ballpark opening 16 years earlier — Camden Yards.

What is interesting, though, is when you look at the Baltimore Orioles organization today for any memory of that day, there is little institutional knowledge of it — firsthand experience.

No one on the coaching staff or in most of the front office was on hand that day — April 6, 1992, when Rick Sutcliffe defeated the Cleveland Indians 2-0. It is one of the most historic days in the city of Baltimore and the franchise, yet there are few in the organization today who can pass on their experiences from that day.

The institutional knowledge for the Baltimore Orioles consists of the Tyler family — Ernie, the legendary umpires attendant, and his two sons, Jim and Fred, the clubhouse managers at Camden Yards; trainer Richie Bancells, and long time traveling secretary Phil Itzoe. And in a game grounded with tradition, that sort of knowledge holds a special place.

“Having people around like that gives those who come into the organization an appreciation of the history of a team,” said Nationals clubhouse manager Mike Wallace, who knows about baseball history.

This is his 36th year in the majors, and, having been with the Nationals since Major League Baseball assumed the operation of it in 2002, pretty much serves as the institutional knowledge.

“People who come into the team later on benefit from what came before them, and it’s important for them to hear about the history,” Wallace said. “On the Orioles, you had guys like [Cal Ripken Sr.] and [bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks], they were the Orioles. When you had people like that, you didn’t have to open a book for that knowledge. All you had to do was ask.”

The Nationals are still in their infancy in this Washington incarnation, so no one can truly speculate who will be here years from now to tell newcomers what it was like when they played the first exhibition game here, as they did last night, or when they have the official Opening Night tonight. There will be box scores and stories written, but there are always tales behind the scenes that only those on the inside have seen and heard.

Maybe it will be Nationals manager Manny Acta, who will gladly pass on not only his firsthand experiences about the historic opening of Nationals Park but also from where they came.

“I will tell them what I went through in my office,” Acta said, recalling the challenges of baseball at RFK Stadium. “We really enjoyed RFK, but this is tremendous. It is state of the art. You can’t get any better than this, and these guys really appreciate it.”

Hopefully, for years to come, there will be people inside the organization to tell the stories about that appreciation and these special moments.

Outside the organization — in the stands, among the fans — there is no problem carrying on the institutional knowledge of baseball in the District, which is remarkable, considering there was no baseball team here from 1972 through 2004.

You saw it as fans filed into the ballpark yesterday afternoon — generations of D.C. baseball fans, like Jim Lystad, 45, from Bethesda, wearing a Senators jersey, and his 10-year-old son Trevor, wearing a Nationals jersey.

“This is very cool and exciting,” Jim said as he walked around the center field plaza.

His son Trevor, when asked whether he would someday tell his son about being in Nationals Park for yesterday’s game, said, “We were at RFK for the home opener in 2005, too.”

Trevor Lystad will have no problem passing on the knowledge of Washington baseball and telling stories about these historic moments in the city.

There were generations at Nationals Park yesterday that go back two ballparks ago to Griffith Stadium.

Dave Bagley, from Temple Hills, was wearing a Senators jersey. He started going to Senators games at RFK in 1996 with his father, Cliff, who came from England in 1949 and started going to Senators games at Griffith Stadium.

“This is my third baseball stadium in Washington,” Cliff said. “This is terrific, and if the team lives up to expectations, it should be a pretty fun year.”

If future Washington Nationals want to hear about the opening days of the new ballpark years from now and the tradition of Washington baseball, if there is no institutional knowledge available in the organization, all they will have to do is ask a D.C. baseball fan.

They were flying the colors yesterday, from Senators to Nationals — so much so that I walked around the ballpark for an hour until I saw someone wearing anything to do with the Washington Redskins.

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