- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2009

As fans stood in line Sunday to get into the first NatsFest at Nationals Park, it seemed like the day was going to turn into DunnFest.

Adam Dunn, they need somebody,” Arlington’s Carl Lennartison said.

“I would like to see them get Adam Dunn,” Fairfax’s Russ Rosen said. “I think he would be a good player for them. They absolutely need to do something and spend some money.”

“I am really glad they went after [Mark] Teixeira,” the District’s Joe Guevara said. “I think the next best thing would be Adam Dunn. I hope they bring somebody in to bring the fans here. This is a wonderful park, but the team is not very good right now.”

When I walked through the center-field gates and was handed a schedule of events and player appearances, I asked the attendant, “Where’s Adam Dunn signing?”

“I think up on the fourth floor,” he said.

Wishful thinking, confusion, call it what you will. The fans have awakened - perhaps by the team’s surprising pursuit of Teixeira - clamoring for something, anything in the way of a pulse for a franchise that was on life support when last season ended.

Make no mistake about it: Dunn, the free agent slugger who split last year between the Cincinnati Reds and Arizona Diamondbacks, is the No. 1 topic of debate and lobbying within the Nationals’ organization right now - even among the players. Ryan Zimmerman has spoken to Dunn and made it clear Sunday the player who is also known as “the big left-handed bat in the middle of the lineup” is very interested in joining the Nationals.

“He likes this place,” Zimmerman said. “He likes everything about it. Obviously he knows Jim [Bowden, the Nationals’ general manager,] and knows what he is about. There are a lot of ties in there. We have to kind of wait to see what happens. There’s still some time.”

With nearly 100 free agents still on the market, there will be some scrambling and bargains to be had.

“[Free agents’] asking price really hasn’t come down much in the last two or three months,” Bowden told a crowd at a question-and-answer session Sunday.

“You have some free agents in the next 10 days who are going to make their final decisions,” he said. “People start to get nervous when spring training is only 2 1/2 weeks away.”

Getting the best deal is fine and dandy, but Nationals fans who were encouraged by the team’s bid to sign Teixeira will be crushed if they fail to sign a big bat like Dunn, who likely will cost less than 25 percent of the total commitment the Lerner family was willing to pay Teixeira. It is too risky for the team to keep waiting to see whether they will get a blue-light special.

Fans had questions about the owners’ financial commitment to winning, but there wasn’t a Lerner in sight to answer them. One fan asked, “Is the money available for players other than that special player, and what would you consider to be a competitive payroll that this team should have to keep us out of that lower tier?”

The special player, of course, was Teixeira, and players other than that special player would include Dunn.

Bowden said they would consider other free agents “if it makes sense for our team and if it helps us long term.”

As far as payroll, Bowden said, “Our budget number has never been a strict number. It has always been flexible.”

Yes - between low and lower. Fans are clearly calling for some kind of sign from the Lerners that they recognize people need a reason to come to Nationals Park other than the racing presidents.

Team president Stan Kasten said he was pleased with the turnout - it appeared maybe 6,000 were on hand, but no estimate was available from club officials. If Dunn indeed had been signing at Nationals Park on Sunday, it would have turned into a “Dunn Fest” - and they would have needed more space. In fact, they might consider a separate “Dunn Fest” if the team does sign the slugger.

If not, the crowds at Nationals Park this summer might just qualify as a good Nats Fest turnout.

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