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A Big Reality Check

A one-vote margin to fund such a park, especially after a more than two-month public brawl, is practically an invitation to insurrection when three new council members, all anti-baseball, arrive in 10 days. Even as cheers for Opening Day at RFK Stadium in April are poised to burst from millions of throats, the return to the council of Marion Barry brings an almost surreal element into play.

Recently, the CEO of a major District-based corporation told me that he specifically hoped the council would not pass the stadium bill by a slim 7-6 vote because "a new council can pass a law to reverse the work of the past council." While that may be true, the council yesterday followed a parliamentary procedure that it hoped would effectively make it impossible for the new council to reconsider the stadium financing deal.

D.C. councilman Vincent Orange holds a Rickey Henderson photo and bat. Orange said Henderson, who turns 46 on Saturday, would be willing to play for the Nats. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

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If Washington doesn't trust baseball, then the District should be aware that the forebodings are mutual. The game wonders if it has jumped in bed with a nut case. "They were happy [with concessions] last night. Then we only get a 7-6 vote? I'm nervous about the future [in Washington]," said one highly placed baseball executive yesterday. "What's the next Machiavellian twist?"

To contrarian thinkers, perhaps all of this is a good sign. When both parties are most worried about a relationship, maybe they work the hardest to keep it together. "While I think today's vote is important, a lot of hard work lies ahead," Williams said.

Even that may prove to be an understatement. When it comes to baseball and Washington, generations of fans have watched as Murphy's Law has been raised to a higher power. Things can go wrong that have never gone wrong anywhere else and in ways that have no precedent in the sport's history.

At least Williams, who has mismanaged this deal since the day he shook hands with baseball, has finally found the correct message. "It's more than baseball," Williams said yesterday. "It's the rebirth of the [Anacostia] waterfront. It's 3,500 jobs. It's $15 million every year [added] to our [tax base]. It's $450 million in resources [for other projects]."

Recently, Selig was at a function with two former governors of Wisconsin. They talked about the original financing of Lambeau Field in Green Bay. "It was, 'How dare you spend all this money? We need hospitals,' " Selig recalled. "And I'm sure there was truth to that. You have to remember that every stadium deal is bitter everywhere. I have never seen a single exception.

"But today they call Lambeau Field 'the shrine,' " Selig said. "The point that's forgotten is that, ultimately, the team and the ballpark makes the community better."

That, of course, is a sales pitch. But it's a good one. Especially since the evidence can be seen from coast to coast.

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