- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

Darrell Green stood on the mound Friday night at Nationals Park and showed the sort of athletic confidence that made him a Hall of Fame cornerback and helped him excel for 20 years in the NFL.

He shook off his catcher, Willie Harris.

“I had about six pitches with me,” said Green, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of Black Heritage Night. “I knew I would have some disagreement with whoever was catching me. I knew they would underestimate me. I said, ‘No, I’m not throwing that little baby stuff. I want to throw a slider. I want to move it outside a little bit.’ ”

This from a guy who said he got cut from the baseball team in fifth grade.

Green never listened to anyone who told him he couldn’t do something. The determination and dedication to prove people wrong made the 5-foot-8 kid from Houston an elite cornerback for the Washington Redskins - and also one of the most beloved and admired athletes in this town.

He is no kid anymore, at 49 sporting a great speckled goatee. But don’t tell him that.

I asked him if he thought he could beat Harris, probably the fastest guy on the Nationals, in a race. “Oh, yeah,” Green said. “I can outrun every Wizard, every Redskin, every Nat, every Capital. … There is not one player on any team here that can outrun me.”

Green has always liked a challenge, and he nearly became part of the challenge to put major league baseball back on the map in the District. He came close to having a place in the owner’s box at Nationals Park; Green was part of the Jeffrey Zients-Fred Malek group that was passed over by baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig in favor of the owners who have presided over this disaster on South Capitol Street.

“I was looking forward to being part of the ownership group of this team,” Green said. “I was slated to be director of the foundation part of the team. It was going to be a win-win all around.”

Green, though, had nothing but good things to say about the current owners.

“I like the ownership,” he said. “I like the atmosphere here. I know it is tough right now, but they will overcome that.

“I like the owners in this town. I like what they are doing here. Abe Pollin, even Dan Snyder… he started kind of behind the 8 ball, but he is coming along. With Ted Leonsis and Sheila Johnson, we have good owners for our sports. We’ve got the franchises, and the fans are waiting with bated breath to get behind them.”

I wonder who will be the baseball version of Darrell Green someday in this town - a longtime beloved Nationals player. Ryan Zimmerman may wind up filling that role. It requires an athlete being part of the community year-round - making the District his home, as Green has done.

A number of Redskins players through the years have done that; that’s part of the reason why, years after they retire, they are still beloved in this town. So have some Capitals players, such as Rod Langway. Their presence brings a smile to the faces of fans, who remember the moments these players helped create - like Green returning a punt 52 yards for the winning touchdown in a January 1988 divisional playoff game against the Chicago Bears.

Frank Howard still has that sort of presence here after all these years - which begs the question, why has he not been given a job by the Lerners? But there is a gap of more than three decades since Hondo was with the Washington Senators, and for fans who grew up here, there is no baseball icon along the lines Darrell Green - at least not yet.

Green, who is training a number of college and pro players (including the Redskins’ Justin Tryon), is rooting for the Nationals to establish the sort of foundation in this town that fans can connect to and perhaps one day have a baseball version of Darrell Green.

“I love this city,” he said. “This is my home, and I want to see all the local teams do well. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the economy. And it’s good for the kids. And I enjoy sports, so as a fan, I want to see all our teams be successful.”

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

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