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Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; 1:30 PM

With the spring training debut of the Washington Nationals, a professional baseball team is representing Washington, D.C., for the first time since Sept. 30, 1971.

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Wednesday, March 30 at 1:30 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments on the team, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.


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The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Fairfax, Va.: Tom-

I was really excited to see Endy Chavez sent down, since his inability to get on base seemed to be devastating. I know that throws the Nats' lineup into disarray, but it only makes me more curious if there are any players from other teams that might go on waivers because they are out of options. I hope this is the only year we have to pick up other teams' scraps, but do you think there is anyone that might become available who could help?

Tom Boswell: No, it's unlikely that the Nats will add any major hitters. They actually HAVE enough pretty good bats. the problem is that none of them are natural centerfielders/leadoff men.

The Nationals could get lucky. Chavez is an awful offensive player, although he didn't realize. That's why he didn't try to improve more. He thought because he hit .277 and stole some bases that it was enough. This is the "Moneyball" era. Analysis of baseball has advantaged by light years in the last 20 years. Now we KNOW that players like Chavez with low on-base percentage, no power, etc., are death to the production in any lineup. HOWEVER, the players that the Nats will be FORCED to put on the field to replace Chavez will be MUCH better. The additional at bats will go to Ryan Church or Terrmel Sledge, as of now. They HAVE to be much better, even though Church's numbers are from AAA.

Shipping out Chavez may wake him up. But it will put a better bat in the lineup. And, after scoring 635 runs last year -- which is just horrible -- the Nats need improved offense far more than a better glove in center.

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Ross, Va.: Do yesterday's moves seem to indicate that there may be a trade on the horizon? What does Trader Jim have up his sleeve?

Tom Boswell: Had a long talk with Bowden today. He's one of the great yackers in the game, in the Sparky Anderson, Jim McKeon tradition. We need more like him. He ALWAYS wants to trade, but it doesn't look like anything is brewing. Sending Chavez down was definitely a shake up the clubhouse move since the team has been a little flat in its current 5-game losing streak. Yolu want to shake 'em up a week BEFORE the season starts, not a wekk after the season starts when they are already 1-6.

Also, Bowden is a modern stats guy and just hated Chavez' production. Endy was given a chance to change. He, apparently, didn't even try. Never saw so many old hands, like hitting coach Tom McCraw, just shake their heads. They were talking about this three weeks ago down here. Everybody knew -- except Endy. So, it turned out to be the Endy for him.

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L.A. via D.C.: Did you ever read "Moneyball"? Your thoughts on using a more statistical based analysis for players and drafting over (but not in place of) scouting?

Tom Boswell: Yes, loved it. (Hey, I'm in it...once.) I was one of the original gangsters on New Stats with Total Average back in 1980 in Inside Sports. Lord, 25 years ago. Total Average and OPS are very similar (though TA is slightly better because it includes steals, caught stealing and hitting into DPs). Such analysis is now essential. Though many teams are still behind the curve.

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: 70 games? Is that a joke? Where are the other 92?

Tom Boswell: Others will be on some kind of cable TV deal. It won't just be 70 games. Don't worry.

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Arlington, Va.: Is Bauer going to get the 5th starter job for the Orioles?

Can you give readers your assessment of the Orioles right now going into Opening Day?

Tom Boswell: It's all about the rotation. Cabrera is 10-15 pounds bigger. It's visible. Miller taught him a change up. He's wild sometimes, but could win 15. Eric Badard's stuff reminds me -- and others -- of the young Mike Flanagan. But few have Mike perfect baseball makeup -- smart, but tough.

Ponson is a disaster in the making. Image how worried any of us would be if we had a son who had this many incidents where drinking was involved. He really changes the whole Oriole picture. I thought for sure they be over .500 this year, especially after Lopez worked out so well last year. Now, I'm not so sure, because of Ponson. But they'll be very entertaining. I'm assuming Cabrera and Badard are still not in their prime. That's a limiting factor.

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17th & M, Washington, D.C.: Bos,

How about Washington Post Field at R.F.K. Stadium? Maybe you could talk to the Powers That Be ...

Tom Boswell: There are a lot of short-term worries and rolled eyes down here about the condition of the RFK field for the April games. The park may look fine from the stands. But what will it look like to an outfielder trying to cut a ball off in the gap who has no idea which direction the next hop may be? April could be an adventure. So, I'm not sure the Post would want its name on that turf yet!

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Springfield, Va.: Great observation on Angelos this a.m. Have you heard of any late TV development on this today or a light in the tunnel? Also, what is your evaluation for the next year ... purely speculative I know. I'm thinking the Nats will respond to a new home, and fan support. Thanks ...

Tom Boswell: Once the Angelos-TV-right deal is finally made, Washington fans may never have to think about Peter again. Orioles fans will. And Nats fans who are also o's fans. But pure washington fans will, essentially, be done with him. He'll have done his worst -- whatever that turns out to be. But at least the damage he can do will be OVER.

That's "if" there is a deal.

Some think he's so emotional about this, and wants to do damage to Selig or baseball in a lawsuit with things he may bring to light under "discovery" that he actually wants to go to court -- regardless of whether his TV-right case has much merit. Sort of the ULTIMATE nuisance suit. (By the ultimate nuisance?)

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Washington, D.C.: As one of the generation of Washington residents who has grown up an O's fan (born in 1977), I find it really distressing how much Angelos is alienating us with his behavior.

I guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks but hasn't he ever heard of the harder you squeeze the more will slip through your fingers?

What a shame his presence as an owner in baseball is. Any chance of him selling as soon as his organizational value is guaranteed?

Tom Boswell: Someday, he will be gone. Right? Right?

Or, maybe, he will wise up -- a little. Steinbrenner did. But then George did his changing at a much younger age.

We always tend to think of things only in terms of TODAY. Angelos will fade from the headlines after Opening Day. Then the Oriole TEAM will determine its own fate. Peter has an impact. But if Charlie Finley could be overcome by his A's, the Os might conceivably do the same.

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Woodbridge, Va.: If you can spell Cabrera, why can't you spell bEdard correctly?

Tom Boswell: I can't spell anything correctly. I was taught the phoenetics (?) method in D.C. public elementary schools. (See, I can't even spell that.) It was later determined to be a complete disaster as a spelling methodology. My spelling is so bad that one editor once kept a COLLECTION of my more amazing mistakes.

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Alexandria, Va.: I got a real kick out of the Major Headlines in every local paper and newscast about Chavez being sent down. It shows the great interest in the Nationals coming to town. Being a new season ticket holder, I am just thrilled that there is talk like this over a less than average player. Even if the NATS just make it to .500 this year, it's OK. We have REAL BASEBALL IN OUR TOWN AGAIN. People are excited and it's great to see so many just wearing the "W" hat again and talking baseball. CAN NOT WAIT FOR OPENING DAY!! In Philly on Monday and Here on the 14th!!

Tom Boswell: YES! The Chavez decision was, in its way, a perfect introduction to the first baseball season in 34 years. Now, every position in the lineup is under discussion. Who hits where and why? What adjustments would help? Do you platoon players at certain spots? What could you add in trade? Can Chavez wake up in time to be a useful player someday. It's a real BASEBALL story. Which is just what we want and need right now.

By the batting cage today, it's was just an open-line discussion by the whole team of how Nick Johnson had done so well at the top of the Yankee order in '03 (.422 on-base percentage) and whether he should hit 1st or 2nd. Etc.

The Nats current 10-13 record is probably just about their level. Under .500, but decent. Worth watching. And with a future if new owners add two or three key (but costly) pieces. This is NOT a 100-loss, no-future Senator team from the '50's or '60's.

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Oakton, Va.: Will the front runner to be the new owner?

Tom Boswell: The front-runner in the ownership derby is, and should be, The Washington Baseball Club -- the well-known Fred Malik group. Any others will have to overtake them, IMO. But watch out for any group that suddenly appears with Stan Kasten (ex-Braves president) as part of the team. Such a group might have Bud's sign of approval on it -- like the Henry group with Larry Lucchino in it -- that got the Red Sox.

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Washington, D.C.: What is the deal with this "Moneyball" explanation of sending down Endy Chavez? Can you name a single player, with the possible exception of Wilkerson, who matches the Moneyball mold? Signing Christian Guzman, who has a terrible on base percentage, sure wasn't a Moneyball decision.

Tom Boswell: The Nats have five first-rate Moneyball players. Not great, but good. And you might see them hitting No. 1-5.

Brad Wilkerson, Nick Johnson, Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen and Sledge. That would push Wilky to CF. Ouch. Castilla and Schneider are half-decent OPS players for their positions. Guzman is awful. Bowden thinks he should hit No. 8. I agree. Frank ain't so sure. We'll see. Frank is REALLY sharp about all the aspects of baseball -- and there are a million of them -- that CAN'T be quantified. Everything that "Moneyball" doesn't know is second-nature to Robinson. And he's comfortab le with the New School stats. He just doesn't worship them.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Does Peter Angelos realize the key to having a successful franchise is to put on a great and ultimately competitive product instead of blaming other forces and the Nationals for his shortcomings? As a diehard Orioles fan growing up, Mr. Angelos is truly upsetting me and giving me not much of a choice but to root for the Nationals.

The territorial argument, does not highlight the crux of the bigger issue -- the team has not been competitive, a lot of long time fans have no one to relate and they are turning away...

Tom Boswell: Can I quote you?

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Cheltenham, Md.: I'm going to watch "Damn Yankees" to help get in the mood for baseball this weekend, not that I need it. What's your favorite baseball movie of all time. Mine would probably be "Field of Dreams."

Tom Boswell: I have a copy of "Damn Yankees" because my boyhood hero -- Roy Sievers is shown TWICE in the movie hitting home runs in old Griffith Stadium. He's "No. 2" for Washington and is, supposedly, the Joe Hardy character (the hero). I always know where to go to get a Sievers fix.

Favorite movie -- by a million miles -- is "Bull Durham." Sorry, but I absolutely HATE "Field of Dreams." It epitomizes every sentimental fake-poetic piece of crap ever written or filmed about baseball. Kinsella is an idiot. (He doesn't even like baseball anymore.) Okay, he's not an idiot. But my views, temperament are very much from the gritty, funny, hard-nosed (and sexy) "Bull Durham" view of what the game really is up close. "Field" is for the third-tier poets like that guy Donald Hall. heh, heh, got that off my chest. :-)

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Washington, D.C.: Come on, we're making baseball decisions now just to start a conversation among the fans? That's no way to run a major league baseball team, is it?

Tom Boswell: No, the decision was real. Chavez stunk (unless he improved). It's just a nice accident that it provokes discussion.

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Allendale, N.J.: How will the Yankees do this year with all the changes they have made and will the rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox be just as intense?

Tom Boswell: As usual, they will win 101 games and lose in the post-season. Great talent. Lotta age. They get worn down by 162 games. And poor clubhouse chemistry, despite Torre. No October MAGIC left in that clubhouse. Just the opposite now, in fact.

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Pentagon: Bos,

Given that the Nats are in a state of flux with respect to ownership, how long do you think it will take for the organization to "return to normalcy"? Specifically, in the areas of attracting big name free agents and building a formidable farm system.

Tom Boswell: Bowden said today that all the Nats needed was a "No. 1 starter, an impact closer and a cleanup man who can hit 40 homers with 130 RBI. Each one of those three will cost about $15-million-a-year for four years. So, for about $200M, you'd have a helluava club."

This was NOT a joke. That actually is EVERYTHING that this team needs. No new owners ship can possibly add THREE such players. But it WILL add at least one -- probably the 40-hjome run hitter at a corner position since those are available almost every winter. Add one pitcher to that and the Nationals are a radically different team. This is NOT true of every team. The Nats have five credible starters -- just no 20-win ace. They have several pretty good hitters -- just no one moose in the middle. And Cordero and Ayala would be excellent young set-up men in front of any of the top dozen closers.

In one years, this will be a different team. In two years, at least potentially, a MUCH different team. Omar Minaya and Bowden have done a good job on a shoestring. The new owners may screw it up. But this is a coherently structured team -- just not deep and devoid of any true TOP star.

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Baltimore, Md.: Favorite baseball movie: Cobb.

Tommy Lee Jones is positively satanic as the great and evil Tyrus Raymond C.

Tom Boswell: Trivia: TLJ was a Harvard roommate of Post publisher Donald Graham. (If this incorrect, I've got problems.)

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Arlington, Va.: Jim Palmer said 90 games and a playoff spot for the Os is "not out of the question." Wishful thinking?

Tom Boswell: Yes, 90 is the top if you think Cabrera and Bedard (!) can grow up fast, that the Lopez of '04 was the REAL Lopez (rather than '03) and that Ponson won't implode.

But that's a lot of simultaneous assumptions. "That's why they play the games."

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Vienna, Va.: What have been some of your hidden pleasures with the Nationals this spring Mr. Boswell?

I am excited for baseball to finally be back in DC, but have been looking at the big picture so much, I have not noticed the small nuances (lack of TV helps).

Tom Boswell: This team has its flaws, but they can flat "pick it." Castilla, Guzman, Vidro and Johnson will make as many slick players as any infield defense. Watch Castilla. Bobby Cox says he's one of the best he's ever seen. Guillen has the kind of RF arm that USED to be the norm, but is now rare. And Schneider is the best of the lot at catcher. LF and CF, with Chavez gone, will be weaker. Just, with luck, not MUCH weaker.

Also, because there are few stars and because the stars the Nats have tend to be gregarious (Livan Hernandez, Wilkerson, Vidro), this is a very upbeat, close clubhouse already. At lot of loses would change that. But if they play decently, they will probably feed off each other nicely. (Livan just tied the game vs. the Braves, 1-1, after five innings with a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to score Churtch who singled and stole second. It Church plays well, he'll be very popular. A handsome talker.)

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey Bos, do you have a favorite baseball card in your posession? And who and why is it your favorite?

Tom Boswell: President George Bush (41) sent me his Topps baseball card in his Yale uniform with his college stats on the back. Only 100 were made. Bush was captain of the Yale team that was No. 2 in the nation in his junior and senior year and had five players who eventually played pro ball. (That's from memory.) 41 was a serious ballplayer, a huge fan.

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Washington, D.C.: My understanding is that Tommy Lee Jones was roomies with AL Gore at Harvard??

Tom Boswell: Hmmmmmmm. More fact checking definitely required.

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Washington, D.C.: Since you've been able to cover the team all spring -- Which Nats player is going to be a fan favorite by the mid-season? And do you think this team is going be able to pull out some of those one run type of games?

Tom Boswell: This team is enthusiastic but is still not as sophisticated about inside baseball as it needs to be and that can kill you in one-run games. They do not yet have an ingrained sense of the importance of "extra base and extra outs." Those are the fundamental units that decide close games. Don't allow extra bases by missing cutoff men, failing to keep the double play in order, making errors, etc. Don't permit "fourth" and "fifth" outs by failing to reach catchable balls, failing to turn double plays, etc. And, on the other hand, create extra bases and outs for yourself -- by moving runners over, stealing, taking an extra base, etc.

All the small, fundamental things -- that the OLD Orioles of the Weaver period preached -- are exactly what this team needs. Frank, of course, grew up on this. But it takes years to ingrain these habits. Zach Day said, "We know. But we're young. We're still learning how to play the game properly WHILE WE'RE PLAYING IT."

Patience, patience.

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Takoma Park, Md.: As a displaced Mets fan, and rooting a bit for the Nats (which might be a problem). How do you feel the Mets will do this year?

Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Overrated. Just like every spring of my adult life.

But Willie Randolph is one of my favorites. I always ask him every year, "Are the %$#^&@'s calling you for managing interviews yet?"

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Fairfax, Va.: Is the steroid issue -- on the field -- going to be able to be kept quiet for all of this 2005 season. Or is everyone going to start screaming the minute some muscled-up guy starts hitting 450 foot homers? When we all read the piece in this morning's Post about Daniel Cabrera adding "20 pounds of muscle" in the offseason, wasn't your reaction "hmmmmmmm....." Is Barry Bonds looking for a graceful way out (OK, semi-graceful. OK, an "out!") of the game, forgetting about Ruth and Aaron and just hoping he can keep his numbers and make the Hall of Fame?

Tom Boswell: There are teams with concentrations of players who have always attracted "attention." Wonder if some of those "hearts of the order" will shrink in size and fade together. I have my eye on one in the N.L. West in particular. This already started happening last year. Get out your "Who's Who In Baseball" and look for the dramatic home run drop offs by players within the last two years as steroids (finally) became illegal and testing arrived. Some guys don't WANT to cheat and as soon as there was actually a rule and a test -- even a lame one -- they stopped. Probably because they'd never wanted to do it anyway but fell into the club house belief that "if you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'." But that was about spitballs and such, not (potentially) killing yourself with steroids.

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Laurel, Md.: Uh, Frank didn't play for Earl Weaver until he was 30.

Tom Boswell: And he played for him for six years. Yesterday he mentioned to me that his "team meeting" on Sunday was right out of earl's book on when and how to have rev-'em-up meetings. The Oriole Way is still the core of Frank's Way.

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, do you have any real understanding of how Alex Rodriguez is meshing with his teammates? Is he truly imperious and aloof, and not liked? Or is that mostly malicious gossip?

Tom Boswell: Mostly malicious gossip. But his preference for 19th-century French Impressionist art work in his home doesn't always mesh with the gun racks on some Yankee trucks.

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Lost Springs, Wyo.: Tom, great stuff about Bush 41's baseball card. I heard he was a slick fielding lefty first baseman? If Nick Johnson stays healthy (slim chance), he has a great chance to shine. He had moments of brilliance with the Yanks. Plus, he is a better than average first baseman. Great baseball preview today!

Tom Boswell: Unfortunately, Johnson is almost guaranteed to miss at least 8 weeks with injuries. His body never breaks, it always "strains" and sometimes that's worse. Heals slower. He once missed an entire season with a "muscle strain." He wants to play. His body is just different in some way and it actually spooks him. He's a nice, polished player and student of the game (Bowa's nephew) "when healthy."

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Alexandria, Va.: Maybe you can answer this, Boz.

I grew up a Detroit Tiger fan, but came to DC for college after living in Boston for high school. I plan to say in the DC area for a long time.

Is it possible to be a Tiger and Nationals fan? Better yet, is it a violation of the code of the sports fan?

Tom Boswell: Yes, it is possible. But probably requires high moral character. Teams "on the rise" that haven't actually risen yet can break your heart. That describes both the Tigers and Nats.

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Crownsville, Md.: Tom, I just finished reading your on-line column regarding Peter Angelos' future and I heartedly concur. His mean spirited approach can do nothing but alienate even the O's strongest supporters. Prior to returning here after a 30-year absence, I lived in San Franciso, and enjoyed the Giants. John Miller, joined the broadcasting team several years ago after leaving Baltimore. My question is what happened to make Miller leave and what were Angelos' actions in this event?

Tom Boswell: Peter heard some of Miller's post-season comments on air and didn't like them. That was part of the break. Before the next season, according to sources, Miller actually returned to Baltimore with the intention of reopening discussions about returning to the Orioles if they'd changed their minds. Peter may actually have had a SECOND CHANCE to get him back. And didn't.

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Washington, D.C.: Any chance the Nats would repaint the white seats in the upper deck to honor Frank Howard? He was my hero and most humble player in any sport I ever saw.

Tom Boswell: They will, I'm told. And should. Great guy. When he managed in the minors I once visited him and went out to a bar with Hondo and a few of his players. As blurry memory has it, he told 'em, "How can you wheel that lumber tomorrow if you don't pound that Budweiser tonight."

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Washington, D.C.: Before any more journalism is published purporting to anticipate the peaceful, civilized pleasures of baseball on a relaxing summer's day or night, etc etc, we need a straight answer to the question: Does the Nationals management conceive of the complete ball park experience as consisting of four hours of deafeningly loud music (rock, rap, "oldies," whatever) with little bits of baseball in between every now and then ... the way most other franchises do nowadays?

Tom Boswell: Any movement to "Snyderize" the Nationals baseball experience will be met with every iota of venom I can muster.

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Fairfax, Va.: Why do the Nats feel that Termmel Sledge is not an everyday player? Couldn't he replace Chavez at leadoff and CF allowing Brad B. to anchor the middle of the lineup?

Tom Boswell: Sledge is caught in a numbers game. Three good players for two positions -- LF and 1st. But he'll get at least 400 ABs. Frank loves him. (So do I.) People get hurt every year. So other folks get to play. Terrmel will get his chance. He's a very smart hitter, could be a surprise. Had a better OPS as a rookie last year than Barry Bonds as a rookie. (No, I'm not comparing them AT ALL.)

Great questions. I have to watch the rest of this game on a glorious, perfect spring day. Livan just doubled in the tie-breaking run for a 2-1 Nations lead after seven innings. Smoked a rope over the third baseman's head. So, Hernandez has both RBI and is coming out to work the eighth inning.

Ya think maybe the Big Fellow is ready for his start next Monday on Opening Day!

We'll chat next Friday. (Questions about the Masters would be OK, too, since I'll be there.) You realize, of course, that by 1 p.m. next Friday, the Nationals will already have PLAYED THREE GAMES.

That's three more than I have, at various times, expected that I would live to see! Cheers.

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Fairfax, Va.: Isn't rooting for two baseball teams the same as having two wives?

Tom Boswell: Yes. And what a fascinating concept!

P.S.: Had to answer that one.

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