Tom Holster's affair with baseball in Washington began around 1967. Like other 11-year-olds of his generation, Holster spent many nights listening to Washington Senators games on the radio.
"I fell in love with [6-foot-7-inch slugger] Frank Howard and all of them," said Holster, 48, then of the Falls Church area but now a resident of Chantilly. "I would make up my own score sheets and sit there and keep score."
Tom Holster's excitement about the return of baseball is shared by thousands of baseball fans in the Washington area, especially those who followed the Senators.
(James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
On Sept. 30, 1971, Holster was holding one of those hand-drawn score cards as he listened to the Senators play their last game, against the New York Yankees, before the team moved to Texas to become the Rangers. Holster could not record the last out, however, because dozens of Washington fans charged the field at RFK Stadium in anger and despair. The Senators were forced to forfeit.
Holster, then 15, had tears in his eyes. "It was rough," he recalled. "I remember sitting there at the radio with the score sheet I had made. It was devastating, really. As a kid they were everything to me."
Last week, Holster sat in what will be his seats for the first season of the Washington Nationals at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. As he watched workers preparing the pitching mound, Holster said he could not believe what he was seeing. "It was really cool," he said afterward.
Holster's excitement about the return of baseball is shared by thousands of baseball fans in the Washington area, especially those who followed the Senators. Since the team left almost 34 years ago, the area has added about two million people, many of whom have no allegiance to or knowledge of the Senators. For people like Holster, the long wait for a team has special significance.
In Holster's case, though, the passion goes a little deeper. He is the founding president of the Washington Baseball Historical Society, a group of about 250 ardent Senators fans who plan to embrace the Nationals, the former Montreal Expos.
"I've been reading the [newspaper] articles and trying to get acquainted with the Nationals, because I never really paid much attention to the Expos," said Holster, a repair technician for Xerox for 25 years. "Without a program, I wouldn't know who the heck is out there," he said. "I think once the season starts . . . you build that familiarity and intimacy with them that helps you become a better fan. But I'm still a neophyte when it comes to . . . who is playing what. It's going to be a learning experience."
Holster and three friends are figuring out how to divide games for a pair of season tickets they have purchased. The first game at the renovated 56,000-seat stadium is April 14, and the scene there will be far different from when the Senators last called RFK home.
"My dad would take us from time to time," said Holster, who also lived in Centreville and graduated from Herndon High School. "Back then you could buy a ticket and pretty much sit behind the dugout. There weren't a whole lot of people in the stadium."
Sitting in the dining room of a 12-room, 1913 farmhouse that he is restoring, Holster recalled his earliest memories of the stadium that opened in 1961. The Senators averaged about 8,000 fans a game in their last year.
"What I remember vividly is the stadium was pretty empty, and the kids would run around and collect beer cups," Holster said. "They would set them on the ground and they would stamp on them. In that empty stadium, it would sound like a cannon shot going off. Of course my father said, 'You're staying right here.' He wouldn't let me run around and do that."
When Senators owner Bob Short stamped on Washington fans and moved the team to Arlington, Tex., Holster said he was so crushed that for years he virtually gave up on baseball. He tried following the Rangers when he was stationed in Omaha in the 1970s with the Air Force, and he could drive to Kansas City to see Texas play the Royals. But it wasn't the same.
"By then I don't think there were any players left on the team who had played for the Senators," Holster said. "I thought maybe I should be following them, but I couldn't really get into them."