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Win or Lose

David Von Drehle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; 1:00 PM

David Von Drehle discussed his Sunday Magazine story about the return of baseball to Washington and the triumph of hope over experience.

Read the article:

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The $534 Million Question: Can Washington Baseball Redeem Its Past? (Post Magazine, March 27)

Von Drehle was online Monday, March 28, at 1 p.m. ET to field questions and comments.

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.: I found the article both insulting and entertaining. As a third generation Nats fan, I ask the question - what sin(s) have the long suffering Nats fans committed? Why do we need to be redeemed? Given its record the teams were well supported and did not move because of lack of support. The Senators moved to the Twin Cities because of a stadium dispute - the Griffiths would not own the new stadium nor did they care for the location. Bob Short bought the team with the intention of stripping/moving the team - he sold the better players for cash and then more than doubled the ticket prices. The author is correct in that the Nats, in their last year, had the highest ticket prices in the majors and the worst record. A general admission seat was increased from $1.50 to $3.50 (by declaring that almost all seats were now reserved). True, there were a few seats in the upper deck in the outfield for $2.25, but you could not see a ball hit to the left field corner.

Unfortunately, this was just another in a long series of articles that incorrectly and inappropriately painted Nats fans in a negative light. If only Shirley Povich was still alive, I know he would be the the Post front office complaining about the unfairness and inaccuracies in the article.

I can't wait for April 14th!

natsbaseball.com

David Von Drehle: I'm glad you were entertained, and sorry you were insulted. I certainly didn't mean to blame the Washington fans for the sorry history of baseball in this city. Personally, I think the fans were fairly loyal given what a crummy team they had to support year in and year out.

Maybe you could write back and tell me where fans "were painted in a negative light" ...

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David Von Drehle: Whoops .. little technical error there. I posted an answer before I paused to say, "Hello! And welcome to today's Nats chat." Given the cold, miserable, sorry downpour we're experiencing here in Washington, I think we are well advised to turn our thoughts to baseball ...

As that first, abruptly posted Q & A suggests, we have heard today from a few prickly fans who evidently feel it is inappropriate to speak honestly in the Church of the Hardball. Why, here's another!

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Washington, D.C.: Clearly you're not a fan of baseball so no need for balance or perspective in your article. Like ALL entertainment in the U.S., baseball is dominated by corporations and big money and the entertainers themselves make lots of money. And like all sports, baseball is full of players we might not like on a personal level. Perhaps you've not heard of the NBA and the NFL, two leagues dominated by felons and spouse abusers. One of the 'Skins best running backs was an out-of-control drunk (no names necessary). The point being, I found your article one-sided and mean-spirited. A little balance and perspective next time. You're right, there is probably little interest in baseball in D.C. considering the fact that opening day tickets are going for thousands of dollars and team hats are on backorder.

David Von Drehle: I am a big fan of baseball and have been since I was a small boy.

Maybe you read the piece online and therefore don't realize that it appeared in the Baseball Issue of our magazine. It would have been, uh, stupid to write about football and basketball in the Baseball Issue!

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Crazy for 'DC' Caps!: So far I have yet to see the 'DC' baseball caps the Nationals have been wearing in spring training in the stores around here, any tips on where I can find them?

David Von Drehle: Let's put this out early in hopes a reader will have the answer. I know you can order them online at the team website. Try Googling (or Yahooing, or whatever) the Washington Nationals ...

Any other suggestions?

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Annapolis, Md.: Sheeeez! I just read the front page article in the POST that the powers that be are now concerned that baseball is not diverse enough. Kids just want faster-paced games.

Why not let kids play what they want to play and stop OVER analyzing.

David Von Drehle: Kids should play what they want. Sure. But I see nothing wrong with baseball trying to draw more kids into the game. Sounds good to me -- I mean, I loved playing baseball as a kid (and football, basketball, kickball, prisonball, dodgeball, Whiffleball ...) and I think other kids might like it, too.

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Washington, D.C.: Could we have come up with a better name than the "Nationals"?

David Von Drehle: Such as?

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Alexandria, Va.: You mentioned in your Post Magazine article that baseball's impending return was a caesura. It feels like more of an interregnum to me.

David Von Drehle: An "interregnum," unless I am mistaken, marks a period between kings. And believe me, there's nothing very royal about Washington baseball so far.

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Clifton, Va.: Great article. Remember fondly going to Senators games in the late 60's with my dad.
"One eyed cur with mange," interesting comment. Do you own any herding dogs? What breed? Do you trial?

Dave and Duncan HCTs

David Von Drehle: Thanks.

Nope, I do not own a dog of any kind. My mother and sisters have enough dogs to run the Iditarod, and I figure that's enough to cover my share.

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Adams Morgan, D.C.: Just finished reading your article in the Magazine. I was very surprised to see you take on baseball (Hey! Boswell is your competition) . . . your perspective was very entertaining and informative.

I'm gonna throw you a softball: Your book on the Triangle Fire was one the BEST nonfiction books I have ever read (it still didn't beat out "Parting the Waters," but what can I say?). I won't tell you the journey that book went on (since you won't be getting any more royalties on my copy), but it is now in the hands of a doctoral student in NYC -- courtesy of his grandmother (not me).

Why can you write about something and make it relevant and interesting, while so many other nonfiction writers seem to want to bore their readers to death? An absence of navel-gazing, egotism, what?

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE people who can write well and make a story come alive, while providing interesting info.

David Von Drehle: Hey -- speaking of mom!

(Seriously, thanks for the kind words.)

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Washington, D.C.: "Nationals" would be a terrible name if it weren't for the historical connection. For that reason, it's ok.

But a BETTER name would've been the Grays. As you point out in your excellent article, the Grays were the best of the best and a team that moved HERE as opposed to the Senators/Nationals: teams that stunk and moved away from here.

David Von Drehle: I was rooting for them to call the team the Grays. I thought it would have been a fabulous opportunity to raise awareness of one of the best franchises in history -- and awareness of Negro League baseball generally. But I'm told the Nats management intends to devote a lot of attention to honoring the Grays legacy.

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FYI: Nationals was the original name of the Senators team. Senators wasn't adopted until the 1950's.

David Von Drehle: Correctomundo!

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Washington, D.C.: Really enjoyed your piece on baseball in DC, including your comments about baseball managers and coaches wearing uniforms.

I believe baseball is the only sport in which that happens because it is the only sport in which managers and coaches are allowed on the field of play.

It also could be because we don't really need to see basketball coaches like Rick Majerus in a basketball uniform.

David Von Drehle: You gotta wear a uniform to trudge out to the mound and waggle a finger toward the bullpen twice a game?

I assume the uniform thing got started with the player-managers and just became a custom. But I think it's silly.

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Anonymous: You should believe this one thing. The Montreal Expos have been the best farm team in MLB history. Maybe now the Nats will keep the players they have groomed for success!

David Von Drehle: Hey, good point! If we can sign as many good players as the 'Spos did over the years -- but actually manage to keep some -- then watch out!

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Laurel, Md.: Football and basketball have problems like Ray Lewis and Jayson Williams. How come they aren't "ruining" those sports?

David Von Drehle: I think if you look closely at my piece you might perceive glimmers of a humor-writing technique known as "hyperbole," in which something is overstated to such a degree that its core silliness is exposed. This is what I was trying to do by listing all the dozens of things that have supposedly "ruined" baseball over the years. The reality is, baseball is more popular than ever in terms of fans in the stands ... is coming off a super-duper postseason ... and remains a swell way to spend an afternoon or evening.

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Uniforms. . . : I don't know whether this is true or not, but years ago I asked my father about the managers and coaches wearing uniforms and he told me that anyone in the dugout was required to be in uniform.

Just sayin'.

David Von Drehle: Really? So after Connie Mack managed his way into the Hall of Fame wearing a suit and tie, they came along and passed a rule saying Never Again?!

Come of think of it -- THAT'S when they ruined baseball.

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15th and L NW: Hey David. John Kelly here. For your reader interested in the "DC" caps: The red and blue ones are, correctly, batting practice caps. I got one at the RFK team store a few weeks ago. They're an alarming $29. They also have "DC" in other colors. The caps are cheaper on mlb.com, but are on back order I believe. Interestingly, locals seem to prefer the "DC" caps to the more historically accurate, but politically dicey, "W" caps.

David Von Drehle: Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparable John Kelly! Let's give it up!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Re: the Nationals

The "Nationals" name is a placeholder. The new owners will have the choice of renaming the franchise. The new owner can gain favor by going with the Grays or the Senators or the Ronald Reagans if they choose.

If MLB picked a "good" name now, it would be much harder for a new owner to change it.

David Von Drehle: Could be. Maybe. I think it will be hard to rename the team once they get going ... although if they go 15-66 at the All-Star break, they're going to be grateful for a new name.

Here's a question to debate among yourselves: How long will it be before the team gets an owner? With the rush for season tickets, maybe the MLB cartel will decide they LIKE owning the Nats.

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Annandale, Va.: I enjoyed your article for its urban history of DC and its DC baseball history. However, one big gaping hole in your story is how the millions of suburbanites that have moved into this area since the Senators left are going to pay for this team with their ticket purchases. I've lived in Northern VA since long before the Senators left and I can tell you that the millions of people that have moved into the VA and MD suburban areas are going to make this one of the richest teams in baseball -- otherwise the team would never have come back -- because DC itself cannot support a team. That was a big gap in your story.

David Von Drehle: Very, very true that the Washington area is much bigger than it was during the various incarnations of the Senators.

That should improve our prospects -- as the next comment points out. (Notice how seamlessly I weave these things together ...)

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Laurel, Md.: From the 30s (roughly) to the early 60s, baseball went through a period in which pretty much the same teams were contenders every year and others remained perpetual doormats. The basis was economic -- the rich teams had farm systems and could buy all the good players entering the game and stick them in the minor where the bad teams couldn't get them.

The signing of Alex Rodriguez by the Yankees seems like the same thing on a higher level -- the top superstars can make contract demands that only the Yankees can meet, even if they have to play him out of position.

Baseball has turned into game of "how often can you afford to field a contender." The Yankees and Red Sox do it every year. The Marlins build a champion every six.

How strong is the Nationals' economic base in terms of how often they can afford a good team?

David Von Drehle: Hmmm. This posting DOESN'T actually make the point I thought it did. So much for seamless ...

But it invites ME to make the point, which is that Greater Washington is now one of the biggest Metropolitan areas in America. How big? Who do I look like -- the Census Bureau? But big enough to put 3 million fannies per year in the stands, year in and year out -- IF we want to.

That's the big if. If the Nats draw close to 3 million year in and year out, and if Mr. Angelos of Baltimore gives us a nice allowance from his TV empire, there is no reason why the Nats should not be frequent visitors to the post-season.

Well, ONE reason. Incompetent management. That would be par for the course.

But let's hope not.

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A Better Name: How about Federals? Then we get to call the the team the Feds and we get that cool FBI tough guy vibe. Way better than (G)nats!

David Von Drehle: The Federales.

Or how about The Federalists -- they could play in powdered wigs.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you think the unbridled greed that our neighbor to the north (Angelo$$) is exhibiting over the Nats TV coverage will backfire and drive even more fans to the Nationals? I am a big Red Sox fan, but sold my tickets to their games vs. the Os because I refuse to give Angelo$$ any of my money.

David Von Drehle: I hope so.

I'm sure Mr. Angelos is a devoted family man, a pillar of his community, whatever. But let's be honest: He hasn't exactly, um, burnished the franchise up there.

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Only slightly related, but where else can I ask?: Is it pronounced "von DRAIL" or "Von DRAY-luh"?

David Von Drehle: You've come to the right place.

DRAY-luh would be the correct way to pronounce it if anyone in my family knew any German. But we don't.

DRAYL would be correct if you were applying rules of English. Which we don't.

So we say DRAY-lee.

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The Federals??!!! Oh please!!!!: I take it the other poster who suggested the name "Federals" does not recall our late, unlamented USFL team of the same name. Anyone recall the day when the Federals were giving free t-shirts to the first 10,000 fans, but only about 6,000 people showed up at RFK?

A headline in this very newspaper summed up the Federals very well after the team moved to Orlando and became the Renegades: "Federals: New Name, New City, Still Bad."

I don't want that legacy on our baseball team!

David Von Drehle: GREAT HEADLINE!

Years ago I was a sportswriter. I helped cover the first USFL game in Denver, in which the Denver Something-or-others played the New Jersey Generals. On the first play of the game, a dull off-tackle play, a New Jersey linebacker filled the hole and laid out the runner with a sternum-busting tackle.

My friend Michael Knisley, noted philanthropist and wit, said, "Kid, welcome to the USFL."

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Feds: So, the poster is Making A Federal Case out of it?

David Von Drehle: Har-de-har.

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Uniforms in the Dugout: I remember reading that the manager need not wear a uniform in the dugout, but that if he does not do so, a la Connie Mack, he is not allowed to go onto the field for any reason. So you'd have to send the pitching coach out for mound conferences.

David Von Drehle: Could be. And I wonder what would be lost, exactly, besides approximately 15 minutes of TV commercials per game, if coaches no longer attended mound conferences?

Do you suppose anything useful has ever been said during a mound conference? I mean, besides: "Walk one more and you're going to be sweeping the stands in Albuquerque?"

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College Park, Md.: Beautiful piece. As someone very concerned about the concentration of wealth and power in this country, I find baseball causes me discord: I fell in love with baseball (the game) when I was 8, and still dream about recapturing little league glories and old Mets championships (I am originally from NY). But I find in many ways baseball (the business) encapsulates so much of what is wrong with our economic system. I think you evoke well the qualities in baseball that keep us coming back for more, no matter how distasteful the personalities and business may be.

I have a 6-month-old daughter who I intend to rear a baseball fan. Shea is far away, so the Nats will have to do. One day I'll want to explain to her how rich magnates strong-armed their way to a sweetheart stadium deal, bringing the Nationals to life. But in the meantime, I hope they give her as many wonderful dreams as baseball has given me.

David Von Drehle: Thanks. That's sweet.

Teach her to keep score, too. I pretty much knew I was going to end up proposing to my wife when I discovered she knew how to keep a baseball scorecard.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Are the Nationals going to retain any of the history and traditions of the Expos, the 36-year-old franchise that is being co-opted, or is the front office treating Washington baseball as an expansion team?

David Von Drehle: Ah, um, Expos history ...

Hmmm.

Maybe the water-repellent tarp they use during rain delays could be made from the same petroleum-based synthetics worn by Gary Carter and Andre Dawson

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Washington, D.C.: You're a good writer, and I love you like a brother - I'd give you a kidney if you needed one - but Boz would never question the notion of managers wearing uniforms. Fat, middle-aged men in athletic uniforms are role models for fat, middle-aged men at home and in the stands.

David Von Drehle: My brother sends me a shoebox full of benjamins every Christmas ...

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David Von Drehle: So show me the love, man ...

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Washington, D.C.: Just curious . . .

Have you read "Beyond The Shadow Of The Senators" by Brad Snyder?

Highly recommended.

David Von Drehle: Indeed. Nearly biblical on this topic.

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Bethesda, Md.: Enjoyed your insightful piece over the weekend. Thanks for that. And here is my question: Though I moved here many years ago, I was born in NY, and raised in NJ, and I have been a loyal NY Yankees fan ever since. And despite the embarrassment of last year, as a fan I have been amply rewarded by the the Bombers. But I always told my children, who are now grown and out of the house, that when DC got its own team, we would be loyal supporters (and somewhere in my basement I still have my "Baseball in '87" bumper sticker to prove it!). Well, that day has come, and I am all ready to go with both versions (home and away) of the Nats hats. My question is this. Can one root wholeheartedly for both the Nats and the Yankees? Or do I need to cut the umbilical and learn to become a fan subject to the same rules of heartbreak as other fans? Different leagues, which would make it easier to have dual loyalties, though interleague play is a bit of an issue. I would like your views, since I think I am by no means an isolated case.

David Von Drehle: Well, look. Everyone is entitled to one AL team and one NL team. So in theory, yes, you can be a fan of both the Yanks and the Nats.

But every Abraham had a favorite among all his wives. So, deep in your heart of hearts, you will be one or the other. Just go with it. And realize that THE YANKEES DON'T NEED YOU!

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Alexandria, Va.: Since you had to research both Griffith Stadium and RFK for your piece, what architectural touches would you like to see in the Nats' new stadium that would evoke Washington?

David Von Drehle: Cool question.

At Griffith Stadium, as I said in the piece, the center field wall took a sudden jog inward to avoid a building. I think it would be terrific if the new stadium recreated that! Why not? The best thing about the best park in baseball (Fenway -- don't even TRY to argue) is the weird wall, which is a function of the urban geography. Weird is good.

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Baseball Inc. -- hate the sin, love the sinner: At the end of the day, it's not as if we have a choice. Baseball is still baseball -- the best game there ever will be.

And sex has been more commercialized than baseball, for far longer, and we haven't given up on THAT yet.

(Actually, that analogy works better than I thought. Hmmm...)

David Von Drehle: Sex is controlled by an unregulated cartel of overweight rich guys, including George Steinbrenner and Peter Angelos?

Eeeeew!

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Alexandria, Va.: Can we please have someone in the print media state (repeatedly) that saying the "O" during the National Anthem is a disgrace and a horrid tradition. Particularly since we're not in Baltimore . . . I have a Very. Bad. Feeling. about this come opening day . . . .

David Von Drehle: Excellent point!

Nats fans: Do NOT yell the "O."

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Washington, D.C.: The best name for a team was proposed by the mayor. I am sorry it died without even a hearing. The Washington Grays would have been great; a historical salute AND a chance for really classy two-toned, sedate, atavistic uniforms.

David Von Drehle: Yes, yes, yes. Grays!

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Mound Conferences: Crucial part of the game.

Where else would you learn about getting a curse off a trapper's mitt, breathing through your eyelids, or candlesticks for a wedding gift?

David Von Drehle: Good one.

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Alexandria, Va.: The 3/11/05 Washington Post reported that Representatives Tom Davis and Jim Moran have four Washington Nationals season tickets behind home plate.

How did Representatives Davis and Moran get those season tickets behind home plate?

Is there favoritism going on in the distribution of choice season tickets?

If so, do you think that lawmakers should accept favors from the Nationals that ordinary citizens do not receive?

David Von Drehle: I don't know nothin' about those specific individuals.

But if there is no favoritism in the seat assignments, it will be the first time in the history of the game. True fact: Abraham Lincoln showed up at the last minute for the first game ever, and Abner Doubleday comped him to four seats behind home plate.

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Downtown D.C.: So here's my dilemma: I really want to go to see the Nats play live. (I've never been to a major league game!) But I don't have the money for season or partial-season tickets. And I don't know what I'm going to be doing on August 28th yet, so I don't want to special advance order tickets at this point. Given all we've heard about how rabid the new fans are, will it still be possible for me to just show up at RFK a few minutes before a game and buy a seat in the bleachers?

David Von Drehle: Yes. It will be. Moreover [ALERT ... ALERT ... illegal activity about to be mentioned; please, avert your eyes ...]

Various persons will very likely be milling about outside the park offering to sell unused tickets to you ...

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Re: EEEW: Gotten a good look at Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, or much of the Internet lately?

David Von Drehle: I have no idea what you're talking about.

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Farragut Square Park, D.C.: Comment re: Uniforms

"You gotta wear a uniform to trudge out to the mound and waggle a finger toward the bullpen twice a game?"

In point of fact, yes. As an example, no less an authority than the National Federation of High Schools is instructing umpires to crack down on this point. Unless a manager or coach is wearing the complete requisite uniform (or a windbreaker in team color for those of the Jim Fergosi ilk), that coach is not permitted to leave the dugout during the course of the game -- except to tend to an injured player, and then at the umpire's behest.

FWIW, your point about player/managers is well taken. Players as recent as Pete Rose and our own Frank Robinson served as player/managers, and the practice was much more common during earlier baseball periods, so this may well be the reason for the rather unique tradition in the sport.

Some may consider it arcane and absurd; I tend to think of it as part of the game's unique charm. Plus, it makes it easier for a team like the Mets to honor its noteworthy managers -- retiring the numbers of Gil Hodges (14) and Casey Stengel (37).

- A weekend Man in Blue

David Von Drehle: An authority! Thank you.

Maybe we should leave it there, folks. Thanks for the great chat, and see you at the ballpark. I'll be the one with the four kids screaming and kicking the back of your seat.

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Washington, D.C.: I really thought your piece after 9/11 was the most moving story on the tragedy. As for baseball, I detest sports but I bought season tickets on the front row but since I did that, I've not heard from the front office and haven't gotten the tickets. Is that normal? They seem unresponsive to me.

David Von Drehle: Wait -- better post this one. Nats people, if you're out there -- send this person her/his tickets!

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