Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Expos were rechristened the Washington Nationals yesterday with a few glitches and a tussle — but just in time for the Christmas shopping season.

The District’s Major League Baseball (MLB) team revealed its new name, logo and colors — red, white, blue and gold — at a celebratory lunchtime gathering at Union Station.

The nickname and the color scheme, first reported by The Washington Times on Nov. 5, are a nod to the city’s baseball history. A team called the Nationals played in Washington during the late 1800s and again from 1901 to 1956.

The Nationals’ red hats, which bear a script “W,” are a slightly modified version of the design used by the Washington Senators from 1969 to 1971.

“Baseball is about our way of life,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “It’s about community. It’s about opportunity. And now, with the Nationals, it’s about our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.”

The feel-good event in the grand hall was interrupted when a protester opposing the District’s plan for public financing of a ballpark in Southeast stormed the stage and began shouting into the microphone.

Adam Eidinger, a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, jumped onstage with a sign reading “Stop the $614 million stadium giveaway.”

Mr. Eidinger shouted, “This is a bad deal, people.”

Mr. Eidinger was confronted by a prominent local sports publicist, 76-year-old Charlie Brotman, who began to drag him off the stage in a tussle that nearly knocked over the lectern.

Others joined the fray, and Mr. Eidinger was led away to the cheers of the crowd. He was detained about 15 minutes, then released.

“I’m breathing hard,” Mr. Brotman said after the incident. “This has nothing to do with a heavyweight championship fight coming to town.”

That wasn’t the only hitch with yesterday’s announcement.

Through much of the day, Major League Baseball’s online store, shop.mlb.com, showed a blue hat with the script “W” as the home hat and the red version of the same as the Nationals’ away cap.

In fact, the red hat, worn by D.C. and team officials at yesterday’s announcement, will be the version worn at RFK Stadium. The blue hat will either be an away or alternate cap.

“There was some confusion about that, I think, but the red hat is the home hat,” Nationals President Tony Tavares said. “The ultimate fate of the blue is all part of the uniform design we haven’t quite finished yet.”

The design of the uniforms themselves were not revealed yesterday. Those plans still await final approval from MLB, its major apparel suppliers and other key parties.

The designs are expected to be released in about two weeks and could arrive in conjunction with a scheduled appearance on Dec. 2 by baseball Commissioner Bud Selig before the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

A reverence for yesteryear was a major consideration during the frenetic push to rebrand the Montreal Expos as the Washington Nationals.

MLB executives in New York led the process, with significant input from D.C. and Nationals officials.

“We’re going for a very traditional look for this team,” said Anne Occi, MLB vice president of design. “And even when we were doing word associations for the name, Nationals so often evoked the national pastime, the game itself, history, lore.

“There are a lot of powerful associations there, and we think that comes through in the overall look of the team.”

Like the team name and hats, the Nationals’ primary logo is decidedly not trendy.

“Nationals” appears in gold-outlined, chisel-block letters, above a baseball and below a red ribbon with “Washington” written in it. The baseball is lined with nine stars, representing nine innings of a baseball game and nine players on the field.

A secondary logo, created in part at the behest of D.C. officials, features an interlocking “DC” and will be part of the uniform, most likely as a sleeve patch.

Even without jerseys to buy yesterday, the naming announcement created an instant rush at both bricks-and-mortar and online retail channels to buy hats, pennants, T-shirts and sweatshirts.

The club’s Web site, nationals.com, drew heavy traffic, and fans lined up six and seven deep at a merchandise stand at Union Station.

Renaming the Expos originally was intended as a task for the club’s new owner.

However, the club’s buyer still is weeks away from being determined, season-ticket sales already have started and the holiday shopping rush is imminent. So MLB executives decided to conduct the process themselves.

The task involved a broad collection of surveys, focus-group data, internal research and input from D.C. officials, most notably Mr. Williams.

Nationals beat out a dozen other candidates to be the team name, Miss Occi said.

“The positives just kept coming up again and again. We looked at a lot of other names, but Nationals stood out rather quickly,” she said.

The Nationals still await D.C. Council approval for financing of the new ballpark, as well as ratification by MLB owners of the move from Montreal. Both steps are expected in the next three weeks.

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