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Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 22, 2005; 11:00 AM

With the debut of the Washington Nationals, a professional baseball team is representing Washington, D.C., for the first time since Sept. 30, 1971.

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, April 22, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments on the team, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.


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A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Washington, D.C.: Is there any chance one of the Nats will hit a home run into the seats are RFK? Or do we have to wait for the Giants to come to town in September? Would Wilkerson's drive during the opening series in Philadelphia have made it?

Tom Boswell: I'm amazed at the lack of power of modern players compared to those who played in RFK between '62 and '71. I went to a couple of hundred batting practices and games back then, probably more, and it was routine to see players hit balls into the mezzanine in BP and sometimes into the lower seats. Not the Hondo seats (now painted yellow).

The big change is the Charlie Lau swing. It's intended to be a combination of hitting for power AND average. It's not the slight uppercut swing that Ted Williams preached and which produced long, high fly balls. The Killebrews, Willie Hortons and Mike Epsteins who hit long shots in RFK in the '60's don't see to be there in equal numbers now.

The current players actually almost refuse to believe that home plate is in the same place. Many Nats hitters are complaining and pitchers are starting to love the idea. Ironic that the "bigger" modern players don't hit the ball as far __at least in the spring. We'll see what happens when the weath is 20-30 degrees warmer. F. Rolbby and others say the ball "carries" better in the summer and that's how I remember it.

Still, for all the talk of weightlifting, steroids, etc., RFK is making it look like a LOT of the modern home run production is the result of BANDBOX Camden-Clone Ballparks.

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Fairfax, Va.: Homefield advantage is a very real thing. Last year the league average for winning percentage was .518. The Expos who had wither two homes or no homes depending on your point of view had a home winning percentage of .437. The Nats could make a huge impact on their total winning percentage just by playing better at home. My early observation is that RFK is probably going to be a great home field advantage. My question is this, "With bouncing stands and enthusiastic fans, is RFK a better than average home field park and can we really make a differnece for our team?"

Tom Boswell: Absolutely. I sat in the stands at yesterday's game. Sat in exactly my old favorite teenager (semi-cheap) seat in the second row of section 311. It was $2.75 then, $30 now. It wasn't a particularly good crowd __reactive rather than instigative. But they were really into the ninth inning.

The home field edge __going from severely negative to (probably) above average__ should be worth 5 wins. Maybe more.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Bos, great to have you writing for a local team now! My question is, I was at the game yesterday, and I heard some people talking after the game about the "Washington ring of honor" somehow making it's way to the new ball park. Is this true, and what is your opinion on this? I have to say that I want the new baseball only park to be just that, baseball only. Would anyone want to see a plaque honoring Joe Namath at Yankee Stadium? Of course not.

Tom Boswell: Interesting. Hard to believe that there shouldn't be some prominent place in a major D.C. park to honor ALL the great Redskins, Wizards, fighters, tennis players, etc. My gut instinct is that the Nats should be generous and include the Ring of Stars, in some form, in the new park.

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Columbia, Md.: Mr. Boswell,

You are too excellent a writer to take such unfair shots at the Baltimore Orioles. Your recent venom has turned many people away from your writing, including myself.

Now that the season has started, perhaps you can write about baseball, and not what Peter G. Angelos ate for breakfast.

I'm going to return to my 20+ year old copy of "How Life Imitates the World Series." I sincerely hope that you will drop your vandetta. (Or at least hold your self-riteous tongue)

There is certainly enough room for both teams, but slanted poppycock from the Post makes it difficult to support the Nats.

Play Ball.

Tom Boswell: I was at the Orioles game last Friday __in my mini-plan season ticket seats__ with my son and friends. My feelings toward the Orioles and Angelos haven't changed much over the last 2-3 years. I've always been fascinated with the team, expecially when they show promise, as they do now. And Angelos behavior pattern certainly hasn't changed. I wasn't real happy with him when Jon Miller left, was I? Or the day he fired Davey Johnson the same day he was voted manager of the year. Or when Mussina left, partly because of the way the Orioles dumped B.J. Or when Palmeiro came to me in mid-season asking, "Don't they want me to come back? I want to stay here. What's going on?" Or when Pat Gillick left? Or...

Come on, this is the team/owner dicotomy __Steinbrenner dilemma__ on a smaller scale, that Yankee fans used to face. Oh, but they win a lot of games, don't they.

Believe it or not, it wouldn't take much for Angelos to change the weay he is perceived by a LOT. He just needs to start the process, not fight it.

As I noted last week, I suspect that, very soon, there will be very little reason to write much about Angelos __relative to the recent past when it was unavoidable.

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Herndon, Va.: Do you think the Nationals have any chance at the playoffs?

Tom Boswell: I think they have a chance __only July 31st__ to have people wondering if they shopuld make a trade to make a "wild card run." Best case, I think they're one of those teams that excite people for 100-110 games.

In Florida, they were better than I expected. And now, they are slightly better than I thought they were in Florida. Every statistic measure that I trust say that they are between the 15th and 18th best team. Faint praise. But much better than last year and competitive with a chance at .500. A much more realistic chance than I thought just a few weeks ago. But they are still not DEEP. Injuries change the pictrure for them more than for most teams.

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Washington, D.C.: Looking at the WDCA TV schedule posted on their website, and the now impending Comcast lawsuit, it appears that we are going to have a difficult time watching the Nats on weeknights.

Since cable television is a regulated utility, should we advocate local governments inside the beltway to insist that the Orioles games be blacked out on nights when there isn't a any Nats coverage. The frustration of having the O's on and no Nats coverage is becoming more than a nuisance. We are being injured as a community and should seek redress, your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: I suspect you will see a real groundswell of anger about this.

I have started subscribing to MLB.com's $14.95/month video offering which allows you to see EVERY Nationals game live on your computer.

You need DSL or cable broadband, I believe. I'm going month-by-month rather than the $80/yr season-long price in hopes that this will be worked out. However, the MLB package also archives games. So, for example, I attended yesterday's game but wanted to analyze Patterson's pitching patterns. So, I was able to replay the game __jumping forward to reduce the time needed__ and see everything I wanted.

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Central Virginia: Well, in the past 72 hours, we've lost not only JT Tucker to injury, but also lost a game due to a lousy pitchers' mound and infield. What is being done? How hard is it to just have a good (not great) field.

Tom Boswell: The Nationals are being very generous about the state of the RFK field because they expected it to be terrible and were relieved that it was merely problamatic.

But it is not adequate right now. Nobody can prove that the Tucker injury was due to the slippery mound. But I assume it was. Every pitcher has a different delivery, so the mound effects them differently. Some throw "off" their front leg __meaning that they plant AGAINST it, like a golfer hitting off his front side. Patterson is that type. Yesterday was a nightmare for him. I had the binoculars on his front foot and it slipped an inch or two on every pitch. He's had arm injuries in the past. I was scared just watching the kid on that mound. Smoltz, on the other hand, has a different delivery style were you throw more "over" your front foot, rather than off it. Smoltz doesn't "recoil" off his front foot. He places it softly on the downslope of the mound, unlike Pattern driving his front foot into it. Smoltz had no problems at all, never slipped an iota.

If considerable work isn't done to the mound, the bullpen mounds and the infield dirt, there are going to be more injuries. Mostly to the Nats, since they play halfd their games there.

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College Park, Md.:
Should the game have been halted yesterday (I was at work, only saw replays)?

I take it RFK is not a field that drains well.

Tom Boswell: There was a small lake in the hole between short and third in the late innings. I kept thinking, "the gods are going to make sure that ridiculous swimming pool decides the game." Darned if it didn't. That's where Guzman had to field the ball in the hole. ALL DAY throws were tailing to the inside of first base. Both first basemen had to "save" at least two errors, more like three each, on throws that slipped to the right. But Guzman's was the wildest and Johnson, who'd made three excellent plays earlier in the game, couldn't get it.

I thought the field was similar to many other "sloppy tracks" on which I'd seen games continue. However, several playesr seemed to think it should have been stopped. They probably know best. But it was an insideous rain/mist that always threated to stop, then picked up again.

Cordero did an amazing job of almost getting a save in a 1-0 game against the Braves after loading the bases with none out. Then, afterward, when Guzman __whose feelings are hurt these days__ wouldn't talk, Cordero said, "Blame me. I loaded the bases."

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Washington, D.C.: Tom, what's the picture and sound quality like on the MLB online TV, and how large can you expand the viewing window?

Tom Boswell: First, I'm no expert. DON'T BLAME ME if you get it and it stinks. I'm not trying to sell the product. The Post had a very good story on the subject on D11 today. "Can't Find the Nats? Web Has It Covered."

Answer: When it's good, it's good. When the damn picture freezes for 20 seconds in the middle of a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, it ain't so good!

The archived stuff I've watched has been perfect. "Live" seems to vary from feed to feed. I blow the pitcure up to full computer size and consider it very good __considering its a computer, not a TV!

I enjoy it. And have no problems with MLB.com as a SHORT-TERM solution. Also, you get EVERY game, not just the Channel 20 games. On the others, you get the local telecast of the Marlins, etc.

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Washington, D.C.: I attended yesterday's game. When I wasn't watching Patterson flail around on a flawed mound, I saw a pitcher command and control a game in a delightful way. But I never saw a pitch above 92-mph. How would you describe him -- power pitcher, control pitcher, speed-changer, or location guy?

Thanks!

Tom Boswell: I wrote my e-mail column __hey, it's free__ on Patternson on Wednesday. I said there that when I watched him pitch on Saturday I was stunned. He was one of the best pitchers that I had ever seen that I had barely heard of.

Of course, he's not THIS good. Nobody is. You can do OPS for pitchers as well as hitters. It's just the reverse. On-base-percentage plus slugging percentage. Except for a pitcher, the lower the better. Right now, Pedro Martinez is No. 1 at an unbelievable .335. Patterson is No. 2 IN BASEBALL at .410, just ahead of Clemens at .410. Then, the n ext lowest is way back at .472.

The radar gun at RFK is one of the (honest) slow ones. Patterson's 92-93 at RFK would probably be 94-95 in Camden Yards. He has an "A" curve, a live fastball that (for the time being) he can spot. His slider yesterday was bedtter than I thought he had. And he's learned to run the fastball back in on the hands of righthanded hitters __a huge improvement for him since 16 of 18 homers off him last year were by righthanders.

When the Nats got him from Arizona, they LENGTHENED his stride and he picked up 5 m.p.h What kind of goofball organization has a 6-5/6-6 pitcher with a short stride?

Anyway, he's been injury prone. But so far he's been THE surprise on a team with several. But three starts don't make a season. Last year, he started with four strong starts, then missed 10 weeks with a groin injury __EXACTLY the kind he could have reinjured yesterday on the crummy (and wet) mound at RFK.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Say what you will about Joey Eischen's pitching ability. As a quote machine he is peerless. Taking out the NL East and Angelos in successive weeks is priceless. He's got to be a fan favorite, though a bit R rated.

Tom Boswell: He's a beauty. Baseball tolerates and, on some teams, even encourages this type of guy. Frank loves him. Eischen is a fighter on the mound, has a nasty slider and, despite the "quote machine" factor is popular with teammates. He's REALLY uninhibited and may have a couple of real jaw-droppers before the year is over. He knows it. Hey, they're the new team in town and need all the color they can get. He's a vet who loves the game, has taken the hard knocks everywhere and is finally a quality seventh inning lefty. Let him enjoy himself. He's earned!

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Arlington, Va.: Mr. Bosewell,
So who do we complain to about the lack of Nats TV coverage? There is so much anger and disgust at the greediness and I just want to watch the games. They black out my digital cable extra innings Nats games. Where do I write a letter or make a phone call or picket? Help!

Tom Boswell: MLB runs the Nationals. Ask MLB what the heck is goin' on.

This is complex and we're all just getting a handle on it. One possibility __apparently__ is that Comcast will actually kill the new Regional Sports Network, just as entrenched cable players in Minneapolis and L.A. killed attempts at RSN's there.

Boy, choosing sides between a cable company and an RSN where the Orioles start off with a 90-10 profit split olver the Nationals: What a choice!

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Vienna, Va.: Thomas,

I know you have gone over this before, but could you please review where the sweet spots are for seating at RFK? And which places to avoid? Thank you. And OBTW, I will NEVER give up my copies of "How Time Imitates" and "Heart of the Order."

Tom Boswell: The "infield terrace box rear" seats are a disaster. You can't see any ball that goes higher than a line drive. They're $20. Nobody was trying to rip anybody off. It just wasn't known how bad these seats were.

The entire upper deck may be the best bargain in baseball. EVERYBODY I know, including Tony K, LOVES the upper deck. The outfield loge boxes are a steal (under $20). Heck, tons of the $7 seats are perfectly good. The next time you're at a game, spend 30 minutes walking the whole upper deck and checking prices. I know one friend who got seats in the second row of the upper deck for $15-a-ticket! He thinks he's died and gone to heaven. His seat is at least as good as the $30-to-$40 ones directly below him.

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Edgewater, Md.: Does MLB know what it is doing or are they just trying to kill for good baseball in D.C.?

Tom Boswell: MLB is generally marginally competent at best. Their handling of the Nationals, so far, is about what I expected. Okay, I expected "bad" and it's just "poor." The actual experience of the games at RFK __ONCE THEY TURN DOWN THE VOLUME__ is really surprisingly good. The parking is great. When more people drive (soon) then Metro will be less packed.

It should be noted that the Orioles would now PREFER to have Nats games on TV __but their terms. This is no longer a fight between Angelos and Baseball For D.C. It's a fight between two rival cable networks __Comcast and the new Oriole RSN__ over the future.

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Washington, D.C.: Season Ticket holder here. I sit in Section 436, which is up the left field line in the upper deck. I've never noticed the radar gun in RFK. Where is it? Is it below me?

Tom Boswell: Just started yesterday, I think. It's on both mezzanine level scoreboards.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Boz, You waxed poetic about the Nats attendance after the first two games. But since then there have been a few games in the 24K and 25K range. Given that the last four expansion teams (Rockies, D-Backs, Marlins and D-Rays) averaged in their first year between 32K and 55K a game, wouldn't you agree that you need to back off your earlier enthusiasm? To me the attendance is honestly troubling.

Tom Boswell: Granted, I'm a geek on this kind of struff. With baseball attendance, you have to make the distinction between Mon-Tues-Weds-Thurs and weekends. Last year, the Orioles averaged 30,000 for the year but only 24,000 on Mon-Thurs.

Also, all attendance is lower in the spring. Baseball = kids = summer! Parents bring kids, etc. A HUGE difference.

Nationals attendance is better than almost anybody expected. Twice this week, when the Nats played Florida, they had 50% higher attandance than the Orioles. But O's made it back up with big Red Sox crowds.

1) The Nats are doing exceptionally well __so far.

2) The entire REGION __Nationals plus Orioles__ is also exceeding expectations. Again, so far. Both teams are playing well. There's a huge novelty factor.

On the other hand, there have been a LOT of head-to-head Nats-O's games __which hurts attendance. That snafu will decrease greatly in future. And what would the Nats be drawing with normal TV coverage since Exhibition Game One?

Don't worry, be happy.

If it gets ugly __compared to what it should be with all seasonal, etc., factors included__ I'll certainly try to be the first to tell you.

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Virginia: I didn't get to see the game yesterday, and I missed the play-by-play for the top of the 9th on the radio as I was walking to my car so I only picked it up in the bottom after the damage was done. What was the cause of the loss, poor pitching by Cordero, the error, or just lackluster offense? Major hat's off to Patterson. Really like that guy.

Tom Boswell: Great game. Though Nats fans __for once__ didn't "get it" yesterday. They were seeing Smoltz, probably a Hall of Famer, on the verge of being beaten 1-0. The issue is not "Who's to blame?" but whether the Nationals will shake it off or let it send them into a slide.

It's the job of manager, coaches, team leaders, etc., to get the point across that the back-to-back seven-inning shoutout performances by Zach Day and Patterson have long-term significance while one tough loss on one wild through on a quadmire field is a fluek.

BUT teams often take tough loses badly. The Expos were known for being resilient. (They had to be.) Now we'll find out about the Nats.

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TV Deal: Mr. Boswell, there needs to be a huge media backlash against the sorry state of the Nats TV deal -- in this day and age, as much as public anger drives the media, it seems that the media can stoke change even more so. That's the only way Comcast, the O's and MLB will feel compelled to settle. Do you want to lead this charge?

Tom Boswell: In Minnesota last year PUBLIC OUTRAGE got all the games on TV by May.

Journalists need to figure out all the details of this. Who's right or wrong and to what degree. Fans DON'T. Just SCREAM loud enough that you are pissed off and a solution is likely to come sooner.

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Ashburn, Va.: Morning Tom, I'm headed to my first Nats game on Monday to see my hometown Phillies. Since you've been to some of the games so far, have you seen any improvements to the concession complaints that were rampant after the first weekend, or was that more of a product of too many fans, not enough supply?

Tom Boswell: Ten minutes before game time yesterday there was a line for dogs and burgers. Not terrible, but not one I wanted to stand in. But no line at all at any beer-and-peanut stand. So, I was a beer-and-peanut guy.

Also, you can now BYO food.

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Alexandria, Va.: It seems to me that some of the problems the Nats still have (TV rights, sprucing up RFK, getting a bat or pitcher) would be solved in part by an aggresive owner, someone who had the Nats and only the nats in mind... any idea on when this will happen?

Tom Boswell: Oh, you think!!!!

A new owner changes everything. (Even a mediocre new owner would be a vast improvement on MLB and D.C., neither of which, for different reasons, feels like it can "throw money at the problem."

Well, throwing some money will solve a LOT of the current (fairly minor but annoying) RFK problems.

Hang on. It's the first MONTH after 34 years!

Perhaps people are just extremely tolerant right now, but almost everybody __no, actually everybody__ who has talked about their Nationals experience to me has said that they loved it. In line yesterday a priest behind me was just raving about how much he liked the old place, the bouncing stands, the sense of great Redskin history, as well as some Nats history, too. As I said, transportation __once people learn that the parking lots are vast and safe and that Metro is not the only alternative__ is likely to be far better at RFK than it will be at the new ballpark. And the old-fashioned wide seats with knee room __they don't build 'em that way anymore__ are a surprise, too.

On the other hand, at least a half-dozen issues MUST get solved within a month __the mound, the PA volume, improvement in concessions. But that stuff should be simple.

That's it for today.

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Washington, D.C.: Oh Cristian. That was bad (yes, I understand the weather was a factor, but it is still dissapointing). Is the man cursed? Can he turn it around? Will the Nats bring up that prospect they have in the minors?

I love baseball in D.C.

Tom Boswell: P.S. Post: Guzman is an excellent shortstop and a .270 hitter who has led the league in triples twice. Right now, he needs some support within the organization rather than too much stat-geek emphasis (like mine) on his .303 career on-base percentage. He's Eddie Brinkman, but a decent slap hitter, just not a guy who draws walks. He should be appreciated for what he is, IMO. He sure didn't prevent the Twins from making the playoffs with him playing everyday.

In short, if Cristian Guzman is your biggest problem, then you have a good team!

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