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A Scouting Williams Finds Fans on Nats' Roster

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page B02

VIERA, Fla., March 6 -- Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church left the field after Sunday's spring training game and, as he entered the locker room, came upon a familiar face. It was D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

"There he is!" Church exclaimed, with a broad smile. Church had never met the mayor, but he knew his visage from the stories he read on the Internet in the fall as Williams (D) fought to bring baseball to Washington.

"I'm a computer geek, so I'm always online. I saw the mayor's picture all the time, so it was nice to see him in person," said Church, 26, who lives in Cleveland in the off-season and is in a battle to make the Nationals' Opening Day roster.

As the mayor came to spring training for a two-day scouting trip to inspect his city's new team, the team got a bit of a chance to check out its new mayor, along with D.C. Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5).

After Sunday's victory over the Houston Astros, Williams made a brief run through a mostly empty locker room and shook hands with four players: Church, third baseman Vinny Castilla and catchers John Wilson and Gary Bennett.

Half the team was in Port St. Lucie playing against the New York Mets on Sunday in a divided squad game. Other players were busy showering, dressing or getting injuries inspected.

But those who saw the mayor said they appreciated his presence.

"His face is associated with our team now in Washington," Wilson said. "I read [the stories]. I remember him being very supportive and confident of getting the team."

Church recalled the dicey politics, when council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) pulled a late surprise in December to alter a public financing package for a new stadium and threw the team's future in the District into doubt. In the end, the council reached a compromise.

"When Cropp said no, I got" angry, Church said. "But after she came through, I like her now."

Seth Greisinger, a pitcher who graduated from McLean High School in 1993, was living in Alexandria during the fall debate over the deal that turned the Montreal Expos into the Washington Nationals.

"When [Cropp] was playing all those politics, my dad told me he had a sense it would fall apart because of the history of D.C.," Greisinger said. "I knew Major League Baseball had a lot of leverage in D.C., but I knew if this deal fell through it would be a disaster."

Greisinger, an Orioles fan growing up, said the Nationals will be "great for the city, which needs baseball. It'll be great for the people. I followed the Orioles, and it's kind of sad for them, but it was getting hard to get to the games with all the traffic."

Williams had hoped to address the players as a group, but Nationals assistant general manager Tony Siegle suggested that he wait until the team arrives in Washington for its regular season. The mayor also had planned to join the team in batting practice Sunday but was held up at a long lunch with U.S. Rep. David Joseph Weldon (R-Fla.), who is on the House Appropriations Committee that oversees the District's budget.

In the locker room, Williams shook hands with Mike Wallace, the Nationals' equipment manager.

"I know you from all the stories I read, and now I get to meet you," Wallace told the mayor.

Later, Wallace related that he had started his career with the Texas Rangers in 1973, shortly after the team had relocated there from Washington, where they had been the Senators until 1971.

"Everything has been up in the air the past few years," Wallace said about the team's future. "It's great that there's some finality to our situation.

"Even though these guys are professional athletes, they're excited to go to somewhere where they're wanted."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company