No one in Washington has had a better view of the first season of baseball at Nationals Park than Bill Hall.
The Washington lawyer has two Presidents Club seats in the front row right behind home plate.
“We’re closer to the batter than the pitcher is,” Hall said.
It is a view he truly savors because no one battled longer and harder for the return of baseball to the District than Hall, a 14-year member of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission.
The list of those who worked to return baseball to the District is long, from former Mayor Anthony Williams to D.C. Councilman Jack Evans and others who are gone but not forgotten, including former commission executive director Bobby Goldwater, who helped lay much of the groundwork for the final product.
But Hall has been there from the beginning - in 1994, when businessman Bill Collins revived the effort to bring baseball to Washington with his bid for an expansion franchise in Northern Virginia.
That was the same year Hall, a former Bucknell basketball player, was named to the sports commission. He helped start the talk of getting the city back in the ballgame after numerous failed efforts since the Senators left following the 1971 season.
Those efforts resulted in the commission’s baseball committee being formed in 1996 and then countless hours of lobbying, negotiating, arm-twisting and some tense and despondent moments before the announcement finally was made at the end of the 2004 season that the Montreal Expos would move to Washington.
Though Opening Day 2005 at RFK Stadium was a triumph in itself for Hall and D.C. baseball supporters, the March 30 home opener at Nationals Park this year brought home the finality of their success.
“It was a true sense of accomplishment and satisfaction made permanent by the fact that Washington would have its own home in its own stadium for generations to come,” Hall said. “With all the national attention, the president being there and the game being so memorable, it reflected the fact that baseball was truly here to stay in Washington for decades to come.”
Hall, 55, often can be seen in the seats - which he paid for, by the way - with his wife, Missy, and their 5-year-old son, Spenser, whose presence there is what makes the game so special to so many fans - passing the joy from one generation to another. Hall grew up in Northern New Jersey and went to games at Yankee Stadium (the original before the mid-1970s renovations) and Shea Stadium.
”I was at Yankee Stadium when Mickey Mantle hit his 500th home run,” Hall said. “Baseball was a strong connection with my dad and a big part of our relationship. One of my favorite moments was when I took him to the Subway Series in New York in 2000.
“For people like myself who grew up with baseball, the most important thing is we really do have our own home team in our own stadium to connect with and root for, and to have a 5-year-old to share that with is special,” Hall said.
Like most Nationals fans, Hall will never forget the walk-off home run Ryan Zimmerman hit Opening Night. He was just a few feet away when Zimmerman’s teammates mobbed him at home plate. He also had a front-row seat to some of the other great moments this year, such as Ronnie Belliard’s game-winning home run against the Orioles.
But in a season in which the team he is rooting for is on pace to lose 100 games, there are many disappointments - and not all of them have to do with baseball.
“The disappointments this year have been the team injuries, which has affected the team performance, and the fact that the team still hasn’t paid the rent, even though Friday night was the 75th home game played, with the fans universally praising and enjoying the stadium,” Hall said. “We are undertaking a process to get that resolved.”
Hall, though, is hardly disillusioned by disappointments. Along the way in the effort to bring baseball to Washington, there were many having to deal with the politics of baseball.
“I always remembered what my college coach, Jim Valvano, would say,” Hall said. “Never give up pursuing the important things in life, and this was one of those for me. It ultimately worked out.”