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Overflow Crowd Watches Baseball Win a Close One

By Darragh Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 22, 2004; Page C01

Baseball is a game for playing hooky -- for skipping work on bright April afternoons, for sitting in newly warmed bleachers, hoping to catch foul balls and rooting for home runs.

So it was a slight surprise yesterday that in the chill of December, and in the fifth-floor, windowless D.C. Council chambers, dozens of fans in suits and activists in T-shirts skipped work to cheer and jeer District baseball.

Yesterday's meeting attracted a throng to the council chambers. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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On one side the red ball caps lined up, the cursive "W" of the Washington Nationals logo jaunty on their foreheads. On the other side gathered the light blue "NO" caps, with their matching blue tees: "NO DC stadium giveaway."

They came ready to rumble. But first they had to abide such discourse as Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr.'s "we have interjected ourselves in a process."

So they found distractions. Blue hat Linda Leaks had taken off from her job as project director for Empower DC, arriving in the already-packed, lime-velvet-paneled room at 10:30 a.m. She spent the next two hours reading Rep. John Lewis's "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement" and worrying, "I should be in the office."

A few rows away, a woman in a red beret rolled up her agenda and tapped it on her knee. A man in a Nationals sweat shirt and red ball cap puzzled over a crossword.

Long before everybody filed in, news reports had proclaimed: D.C. baseball was saved. But those in the audience weren't ready to cry hooray -- or uncle -- until they saw the council's vote themselves.

Which is where the six TV cameras, five still cameras and 29 reporters with notebooks came in: As soon as Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, in her regal, royal blue, turned the topic to baseball, the TV cameras zoomed and the still photographers stood and aimed their lenses toward the dais.

Alexandria resident Joe Graupensperger, in his tie, goatee and red ball cap, found himself nodding vigorously as Cropp described her deal as a victory for baseball. He later sounded the baseball fan's anthem, "I've missed it for 33 years. We've been so close, so many times." So how could he do anything but nod as she spoke -- as though by energetically doing so, he could assure the vote's outcome.

On the other side of the room, Leaks was pulling just as hard. Council member David A. Catania told Cropp, "But for you, we would have been stuck with an even worse deal. It doesn't go as far as it needs to go." Leaks responded like she was calling amens in church: "Mmm-hmmm."

He continued, "But because we spoke the truth . . . "

"Right!" Leaks said.

" . . . we are somehow demonized."

"That's right!" she called.

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