- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Nationals have announced a series of monthly health initiatives this season designed to improve the quality of life in the metropolitan area. That’s all well and good, but they could accomplish the same thing from a strictly baseball standpoint simply by winning more games.

Fortunately or otherwise, this shouldn’t be hard. All they have to do is go 60-102, which would be a tiptoe in the right direction, if not cause for dancing on South Capitol Street. And doesn’t any journey begin with the tiniest of steps?

I’m sure the club’s stated desire to “make a positive impact in the fight against serious health issues” is genuine, but I doubt it’s the first thing on manager Manny Acta‘s mind.

The first thing on Acta’s mind should be finding a way to emerge victorious more often in the admittedly selfish interest of preserving his own posterior.

That meager haul of 59 wins last season didn’t do wonders for anybody’s mental or physical health. By season’s end, Manny’s systolic blood pressure might have been higher than Wily Mo Pena’s batting average. And for the 2.3 million fans who parked themselves (if not their cars) at Nationals Park, there was the constant danger of falling asleep and toppling off their seats onto unyielding concrete.

Yet in the spring, hope springs eternal, which leads us to dream that, as Scarlett O’Hara insisted, tomorrow will be better. Somewhat, anyway.

The Nats kick off - sorry, bad choice of words - the health campaign at 1 p.m. Saturday at Nationals Park with the Avon Walk Expo to raise breast cancer awareness. Registered walkers will travel 26 to 39 miles, which is more exercise than some veteran players get during the six weeks of spring training.

This illness is very personal to Nats president Stan Kasten, whose wife, Helen, is a breast cancer survivor and will be guest of honor at the Expo. Certainly she, and the other survivors on hand, deserve cheers more than any athletes who perform at the club’s Southeast playpen in 2009.

A different health issue will be designated for each month of the season to raise both awareness and funds toward research. Every organization will hold a silent auction during its month - meaning, I guess, that no griping managers or rock-rumped umps will be involved. Heck, even that annoying PA announcer who yowls, “Now batting, Christian GUZZZZ-man!” might have to shut up.

As for the blaring rock music that assaults older eardrums between innings, forget it.

In order, starting in April, the medical disorders will line up this way: autism, mental health, cancer, neurological ailments, heart disease and diabetes - all scourges of mankind that should be attacked with every resource at our disposal.

It’s sadly appropriate, and no accident, that neurological disorders will be the designated disease for July. It was in that month 70 years ago that Yankees immortal Lou Gehrig - dying in his 30s from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - uttered perhaps the most melancholy and memorable words in baseball history: “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Representatives of each health organization will either throw out a ceremonial first pitch or deliver the starting lineup to home plate sometime each month. Personally, I’d go for throwing the pitch. The way the Nats’ hurlers mostly performed last season, an impressive toss might gain the tossee a contract on the spot.

Given all the problems that afflict our fair city, any effort that promotes the well-being of its citizens is extremely valuable. In lending themselves to such an effort, the ballclub deserves our heartfelt thanks. This is fully in keeping with the Lerner family’s stated intent to become a part of the community and work for the general good.

It just goes to show you that losers can be winners, too.

The Nats did the city a favor of sorts last fall by agreeing to pay the $3.5 million in disputed rent the District claimed the club owed. Now all the Lerners, Stan Kasten and interim general manager Mike Rizzo have to do, in terms of further benefiting Washington and environs, is figure out how to put a contending team on the field. Another losing season or two might make everybody sick.

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