For the first time in a third of a century, the hot topic of local sports conversation in the week after Thanksgiving will be baseball. Not the Redskins. Now that's what you call a sea change.
Will the D.C. Council pass the mayor's proposal for a new baseball stadium? That would finalize the relocation of the Montreal Expos -- already renamed the Washington Nationals -- to RFK Stadium and eventually to the Anacostia waterfront. Few events in the city's history, both in sports and urban transformation, are as important, risky and potentially valuable.
Compared with this, the Redskins' upcoming game against the New York Giants is almost an afterthought. The only question left about the Redskins is whether they can go a whole season without a 20-point game. The last time the franchise had an offense this bad was in 1935 when it played in Boston and shared its home field with the Boston Braves who had an outfielder named Babe Ruth.
The only strategic decision left for the Redskins this season is whether to go retro and bring back the '30s quick kick.
If you require livelier water cooler grist, you must turn to the Nats, who aren't even (quite) here yet.
Will General Manager Jim Bowden make another flashy offseason free agent acquisition? He's already added Vinny Castilla, who led the National League in RBI last season with 131, and Jose Guillen, who had 104 RBI for Anaheim. That's a heart of the order right there. He got a fine young shortstop in Cristian Guzman, too.
If Bowden lands just one starting pitcher from his shopping list of Russ Ortiz, Jaret Wright, Paul Wilson and Odalis Perez, the Nats would already be the equivalent of the 78-win Orioles.
If this is what Bowden does on a shoestring, who will this crazy guy grab if he ever actually knows what his budget is?
Even ex-Expos are hot. Montreal's previous general manager, Omar Minaya, who now runs the New York Mets, shared Thanksgiving dinner with Pedro Martinez in their native Dominican Republic. Never has one meal caused so much heartburn to both the Red Sox and Yankees. Will Pedro be pitching in RFK next year against the Nats as a member of those division rival Mets?
The biggest Nats shock is not Bowden's preemptive signing spree to scoop up solid second-tier talent. It's Washington's reaction to the Nationals. This team already has deposits for 15,000 season tickets from people who claim they want the whole 81-game package. That doesn't count the many smaller partial plans that will be created later, much less game tickets. Not conclusive, but indicative.
For decades, baseball ignored market studies and, instead, asked, "Can Washington support a team?" Will it turn out that even Washington itself underestimated Washington's basic demographics?
Perhaps we should have noticed that, despite a dozen-season slump, the Redskins have sold out a 90,000-seat stadium at the NFL's highest prices and still have a waiting list that stretches to Mars. Who knows the appetite for baseball tickets at RFK?
The Redskins have had Washington to themselves for 33 years. Maybe we've come full circle. George Allen coached his first game for the Redskins just days before the old Nats left town. If you lived here in '71, it was a symbolic coincidence to say the least. The Redskins, who'd been mediocre to lousy for 25 years, made the playoffs instantly, then reached the Super Bowl the next season. The NFL inherited sole ownership of the hearts of every sports lover in the nation's capital.
Perhaps it's good for all concerned that we're on the verge of regaining baseball just as the Redskins exasperate their fans for the 11th time in 12 seasons. Competition helps any business focus on its customers. If so, the Redskins need all they can get.