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Fans Cheer D.C.'s Top Political Player

Williams Basks in Warmth of Well-Wishers at Spring Training Game

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page C01

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 5 -- He entered the baseball stadium to little fanfare, referring to himself jokingly as Pee-wee Herman, which is what one Washington Nationals player recently called him. He was not wearing his ubiquitous bow tie, but his checkered yellow dress shirt and sharply pressed khaki pants seemed equally out of place.

He joked with Nationals Manager Frank Robinson, stepped into the batter's box for a photograph and walked along the third-base line. Someone thrust a baseball in front of him, seeking an autograph. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, unaccustomed to such enthusiasm at home, grabbed the ball to oblige.

"This is an example of what people feel about this city," says D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, signing autographs before a Nationals spring training game in Fort Lauderdale. (Photos Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

"Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for bringing baseball back to D.C.!" shouted Duane Kennedy, 30, who grew up in Waldorf. Kennedy was wearing a Nationals jersey over a Baltimore Orioles shirt.

Other Nationals fans ran over. The mayor signed more balls, tickets and programs.

"Thank you, Mayor Williams," one woman exclaimed. "I've been waiting for this since high school."

Later, in the concessions line, Williams was greeted by more fans. One, who wore an Orioles cap, effusively praised the mayor.

"This is an example of what people feel about this city," Williams said. "The whole debate until now has been trapped in how people feel about me personally. But now people are talking about the city; they're seeing the city come back."

On this day, in this town, where he watched the Nationals play for the first time, Williams was a long way from the nasty political battles that marked his push to have a major league team in the District for the first time since the Washington Senators left in 1971 -- the noisy community protests over public funding of a new stadium, the protracted battles by a divided D.C. Council.

The Democratic mayor was with three others who led the fight: council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2); Mark H. Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission; and William Hall, a member of the commission. They came to watch a spring training game against the Orioles, on a day loaded with symbolic meaning. The Orioles are owned by Peter G. Angelos, who fought to prevent Washington's acquiring a team. Last year, Williams declared a boycott of Orioles games, which he said he would lift only after the District was awarded a team.

"It was all worth it, wasn't it?" Evans said to the mayor with a grin. Both wore red Nationals caps.

In a stadium filled with baseball stars -- including Orioles slugger Sammy Sosa and Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver -- Williams was a celebrity of a different order.

He chatted with the Nationals' general manager, Jim Bowden, then leaned against the cage watching batting practice. Someone handed him a Louisville Slugger.

"Why don't you take some cuts?" Robinson asked. "We won't put much pressure on you, but we're scouting."

The mayor deferred and said he'd try Sunday, when he watches the team at the Nationals' spring training base in Viera, Fla.

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