There were old-school Washington baseball fans on hand, those with uniforms with the word "Senators" scrawled across the chest, eager for the next sign of spring. There were protesters, folks who feel Washington doesn't need the Major League Baseball franchise that is scheduled to begin play here next April.
But when District Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) joined team president Tony Tavares to remove a large blue curtain that had obscured the team's name and logo, the Washington Nationals were reborn yesterday, and a few hundred onlookers assembled during lunchtime at Union Station applauded enthusiastically.
Team president Tony Tavares and D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams unveil logo at a ceremony Monday at Union Station.
(Evan Vucci - AP)
Major League Baseball's owners haven't yet formally approved the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, and Williams's deal for a publicly funded stadium beside the Anacostia River still faces a vote by the D.C. Council. But for fans and city officials who support the team's move, yesterday provided a symbolic step toward the sport's return to the District after an absence of more than three decades.
"Baseball is about our way of life," Williams said. "It's about community. It's about opportunity. And now, with the Nationals, it's about our nation's capital, Washington, D.C."
Baseball officials, including MLB President Robert DuPuy, essentially chose Nationals over Senators, the name of the MLB team that most recently played in the District. Williams's influence was important. He was opposed to Senators -- the favorite of Commissioner Bud Selig -- because Washington doesn't have voting representation in Congress.
Nationals has a deep history in the District. In 1859, Washington had two teams -- the Nationals and the Potomacs. Play was suspended for the Civil War, but the name popped up again in the 1870s and 1880s. When the American League was formed in 1901, the Washington franchise was renamed the Senators, but officially changed to the Nationals in 1905.
According to the research department at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., newspapers used Senators and Nationals interchangeably for the next 50 years, but the team was officially called Nationals until 1957, when owner Clark Griffith changed the name to Senators. That franchise departed for Minnesota after the 1960 season, but its replacement, an expansion team, kept the name Senators. That team left for Texas after the 1971 season.
Another candidate -- the Grays, in reference to the Negro leagues team -- lost as officials relied on input from marketing studies and focus groups.
"The Mayor was on Grays," Tavares said. "Bud was on Senators. I think you see a compromise candidate. But I don't want to sell it as that. I think it's a great name."
Nationals paraphernalia went on sale immediately. Williams, Tavares and General Manager Jim Bowden, among others, donned the red hats, adorned with a script "W" -- replicas of the hats worn by the Senators from 1962 to '71. Decisions on the uniforms are still being made, but the home jersey will read "Nationals" across the front. The road uniforms will say "Washington," and both will be adorned with a "DC" patch on one sleeve.
Many of those gathered for the announcement expressed indifference to the new name. District resident Alan Alper wore a Washington Nationals hat and T-shirt -- remnants of one of the District's earlier, failed attempts to land a team. Alper was at RFK Stadium in 1971 for the Senators' last game, and prefers that nickname. "It just flows a little better," Alper said.
Others agreed. Henry Thomas, the grandson of the late Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, a Hall of Famer who won 417 games, said: "I would prefer Senators, because they were the Senators when I grew up, and Nationals isn't very exciting. But it's fine."
The name, though, could be temporary. The franchise, owned by the other 29 MLB teams, is up for sale. A new owner will be allowed to petition MLB to change the name. Barring any snags with the MLB owners or the D.C. Council, the team will begin play at RFK Stadium April 14 -- a day earlier than originally scheduled. Tavares said MLB asked the team to switch the date because baseball wanted the sport's focus to be on ceremonies honoring Jackie Robinson in Los Angeles on April 15.
Yesterday's gathering was preceded by a brief protest when District resident Adam Eidinger, 31, stormed to the podium and yelled, "This is a bad deal, people!" Eidinger remained on stage yelling before several officials -- including 73-year-old Charlie Brotman, the former public address announcer at RFK Stadium for the Senators, and District Councilman Harold Brazil -- wrestled him away, with the help of security.
Eidinger, a former candidate for the District's shadow representative to Congress, called the deal with baseball "half-baked" and a "rip-off," and other protesters made their presence known as well. John Capozzi, who leads a group called NO DC Taxes for Baseball!, held aloft a seat cushion that read, "I am a DC taxpayer/business and paid $500 million for a baseball stadium and all I got was a lousy seat cushion."
Club officials, though, said they are committed to the city. Tavares and Mark Tuohey, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, said the team and Major League Baseball will announce a plan soon to spend a substantial amount -- "well into six figures," Tuohey said -- to renovate fields in the District, as well as create new ones.