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Powerbrokers See More Than a Game

Opener Mixes Business, Pleasure

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page D07

As the announcer at last night's Washington Nationals home opener solemnly introduced former Washington Senators such as Frank Howard and Ed Brinkman, Commissioner Bud Selig stood by himself in a corner of President Bush's suite on the third base side of home plate, leaning against a metal pole and clapping as the men took the field for a final tribute.

"Emotional for me," Selig said, recalling what was going through his mind last night. "I think of everything we went through and all. Turmoil and all the travail. It was well worth it to me."

Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and President Bush are talking baseball; Sue Selig is at the right. "Emotional for me," Selig said of the return of baseball. (John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)

It was a long day for Selig, a mix of business and pleasure as Major League Baseball brought closure to the national pastime's 34-year absence from Washington.

The celebration started Wednesday night at columnist George Will's home on the northwest edge of the District, where Selig and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, the most adamant opponent of Washington baseball, had a friendly chat while watching the Baltimore-Tampa Bay game on television.

"We had our usual, very nice conversation," Selig said, smiling slightly. "We talked baseball."

The commissioner spent much of the day yesterday at the Willard Hotel, where baseball had a meeting to discuss strategies for the 21st century. Selig headed to RFK Stadium in mid-afternoon, where baseball's elite gathered in a tent on the Armory Mall to entertain major sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch.

After Bush threw out the first pitch, the president, Selig and their wives, Laura and Sue, and others gathered in the president's box. The crowd below included a score of businessmen and others who want Selig's blessing to purchase the team.

In the second row behind the home team dugout sat Williams & Connolly attorney Paul Wolff, a longstanding member of the Fred Malek-Jeffrey Zients-led consortium that wants to buy the Nationals.

"Selig deserves thanks for bringing baseball back to Washington, but I would have been much happier if I could have thanked him two years ago, three years ago, five years ago," Wolff said.

A few rows to Wolff's right sat William Collins, who leads a group of Northern Virginia businessmen seeking to buy the Nationals.

"Commissioner Selig should definitely be applauded for the decision he made," said Collins, who would have preferred it if the Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, had been placed in Northern Virginia instead of in the District.

Mark Lerner of the Bethesda-based real estate family and a would-be buyer of the Nationals, sat in the front row behind home plate. Across the aisle and up to Lerner's left, bidder Jonathan Ledecky -- hosting soprano Renee Fleming, who sang the national anthem -- cheered for the team Ledecky would like to own.

Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, sat in the front row of the third base line, where most of baseball's executives sat, including President Robert DuPuy, as well as U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who was instrumental in bringing the Nationals to Washington, sat in a front-row seat near Connecticut's two Senators, Christopher Dodd (D) and Joe Leiberman (D). Financier Franklin Haney, who also wants to buy the Nationals, and his consultant Corey Busch, were in the stands as well.

Zients sat along the third base line with his Goldman Sachs investment banker, John Waldron.

Selig wasn't thinking about the $400 million or so that the Nationals might bring baseball's 29 owners, who bought the team from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002. The commissioner, who headed down to a front row seat to watch the last four innings of the Nationals' 5-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, was just trying to enjoy himself and celebrate the long-awaited return of baseball to the nation's capital.

Not even the few boos that emanated from the crowd after Selig's name went over the loudspeaker could ruin his mood.

"The president and I discussed that," said the commissioner. "There's one thing about commissioner, presidents and other people. Whenever you're introduced at public functions, there'll be some cheers and there may be some boos."

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