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The Pining Ends On Opening Day

"Everybody was raving about it," Holster remembered, "so we thought, let's do this every year." The next year's guests included former Senators Ed Yost, Mickey Vernon, Ed Brinkman, Fred Valentine, Ellis Clary, Ken Retzer, Jim Hannan and Dan Daniels.

The third Nats Fest in 1998 was the one Holster said he would remember the most. Holster managed to stage a reunion of 25 members of the 1969 team, including its manager, former Boston Red Sox hitting legend Ted Williams. The team had a rare winning record but only finished in fourth place, 23 games behind the Baltimore Orioles.

Tom Holster photographs the infield at RFK Stadium, accompanied by Jim Hartley, head of the Washington Baseball Historical Society, and Hank Thomas, grandson of Walter Johnson, a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Senators. (James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)

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"The '69 team is sort of the one I really remember, because they were the most successful during that period when I was following them," said Holster, who said about 500 people attended a breakfast at the Westfields Marriott in Chantilly the morning after a dinner reunion. At the dinner, the players and Williams took turns sharing memories.

"Here is this kid from Falls Church, and I'm hosting this dinner for these guys. When you are a kid, they are so much larger than life and almost mythical to you. Then you meet them, and it's really weird because they are normal people, they are just regular guys. They were really laid-back, nice, genuine people, to a man," Holster said.

The historical society is now headed by Jim Hartley, 54, of Germantown. Beginning with the April issue, Hartley said, Nats News will mix current team news with classic Senators features. Next month's publication, he said, will be "an Opening Day extravaganza. I'm going to have carpal tunnel syndrome from taking all the pictures" at the game.

Though it appeared for a long time that Washington never would have another Opening Day, Holster said he did not give up hope that a team would one day play here again. He volunteered in the effort to secure a team, answering phones and taking deposits for season tickets to demonstrate to Major League Baseball that Washington area fans would back a team.

Like many former Senators fans, Holster made the trek to Baltimore to see the Orioles. But he said he soured on the team in the last few years under owner Peter G. Angelos, who opposed a team in Washington.

"I've always felt this area could support two teams, and, if it is marketed right, it could be beneficial to both" Baltimore and Washington, Holster said. "I had got to a point where I didn't think it was going to happen in Washington because we had been left at the altar so many times. Hope never dies, but I really felt like baseball, for whatever reason, had it in for us. They were looking for any excuse they could to stick [a team] anyplace else besides here."

When baseball officials announced in September that the Montreal Expos would move to Washington, Holster said he did not believe it. To make sure it was truly happening, Holster said he and a few friends went to hear D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) make the official announcement at a news conference at the City Museum. "It was incredible," he said.

Until the first pitch on Monday, when the Nationals play their first game on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies, Holster said he cannot completely escape the fear that some legal or political stumbling block will cause the whole deal to fall through.

As excited as he said he is, Holster is finding that the adage about not being able to go home again is true.

"A little secret is that it's not quite what I expected it would be," Holster said of the events of the last few months. "Because you can never really go back. If Frank Howard could step back out there and hit a ball again, that would be pretty wild. But obviously, that's not going to happen."

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