Friday, January 27, 2006

The Washington Nationals winter minivan came to town this weekend to let everyone know that baseball would go on this season in Washington, regardless of the politics involved, giving the District the same consideration as Cuba.

Jose Guillen, Brian Schneider, Ryan Zimmerman, Brandon Watson and new coach Tony Beasley appeared at Powell Elementary School to greet about 150 children, answer their questions and sign autographs.

One child stood up and asked the players: “Why are you players working for a bunch of greedy old men who want my mom and dad to give their hard-earned money to pay for a ballpark for these multi-millionaires, so they can make enough money to eat lobster and drink champagne in luxury boxes and still have enough left over to pay you millionaires to play a game, when we are using abacuses to learn math while sitting on cardboard boxes?”

Not really.

Actually, the children seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit. They squealed and applauded every time someone wearing a Nationals uniform was introduced, and were elated to get their pictures taken with the players and Beasley.

But when they went to get autographs, they didn’t have any paper or pencils in the school, so the kids had to go out and find rocks for the players to scratch their names on.

Not really.

I’m just trying out the new James Frey school of writing style, hoping that I, too, can someday be shamed into fame and fortune.

As fictional as these scenes are, they are no more of a fabrication than some of the vitriolic arguments made by ballpark opponents who have said the money to build the new Southeast ballpark for the Nationals will be taking textbooks out of the hands of children. It doesn’t matter how many times it is reported that the money for the ballpark doesn’t exist without the ballpark — opponents have shown little shame in using the District’s children as a weapon to stop the ballpark.

Speaking of shame, the ballpark lease debacle is taking a new turn. Mayor Anthony Williams and sports commission officials are hoping that sharing the profits with Major League Baseball from the sale of developed land around the ballpark will be enough to buy off the seventh vote they need to get the lease passed.

Oh, yes, they also made a deal with baseball to help build a youth baseball academy and give out another 2,000 free tickets, making a total of 10,000 tickets to give to children.

It is all about the children, isn’t it?

The children at Powell Elementary certainly seemed to appreciate the presence of a Washington baseball team at their school. When new radio announcer Dave Jageler (who barely looks old enough to be a public relations intern) asked the kids what their favorite team was, they screamed, “Nationals! Nationals!”

I doubt they ever saw many Baltimore Orioles at Powell Elementary (By the way, as weak as the Nationals winter caravan may be, it has far more credibility than the Orioles Fanfest. That is an exercise in futility and fiction featuring many former Orioles players who should be ashamed of themselves for taking a check from Peter Angelos, who has taken their legacy and buried it under a pile of rubble — a million little pieces, if you will — to be part of the farce).

Who knows what the value of a show like this is? Powell Elementary principal Lucia Vega-Garcia seemed to put some value on it.

“The kids loved it,” she said, thanking the Nationals contingent for coming. “The kids will never forget this experience.”

That may be overstating it, but everyone involved would like to think a show like this does mean more than just something to break up the day in school.

“It puts smiles on the faces of the kids, and maybe they will go home and tell their parents, and then maybe they will take them out to a couple of games,” Schneider said.

All of the furor about the ballpark lease is old hat to a guy like Schneider, who said he has been following the developments from afar. After all, he used to play for the Montreal Expos, who were suppose to be leaving town every year for the last five years of their existence and played two seasons splitting home games between Montreal and Puerto Rico.

“You have to remember that we went through the whole Montreal thing, and that was postponed a lot, too,” Schneider said. “If this situation happened with another team, it would be a little different, but our team has been through a lot of stuff like this. I think the right thing will happen. I think the stadium will get done. I think everyone had a good time last year.”

Thirty four thousand people, 81 times a year, having a good time in Washington. No wonder there is such strong opposition to it.

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