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George Solomon

May the Circle Remain Unbroken

By George Solomon
Sunday, April 17, 2005; Page E02

The day Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig announced the Montreal Expos would be relocated to Washington for the 2005 season, former Washingtonian Joe Fries sent an e-mail reminding me that I'd interviewed him for the now defunct Washington Daily News at RFK Stadium during the Washington Senators' last game.

"Here's my pitch," wrote Fries, now 51 and a Hollywood film guy. "Why don't we pick it up right where we left off?"

It was a grand day in Washington on Thursday when former Senator Joe Grzenda helped usher in the new era. (Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

So Thursday night, there were Joe Fries and his friend of more than three decades, Jim Powell, who works at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, talking in the concourse behind home plate at a jampacked RFK Stadium, reminiscing about that night in 1971 when it looked bleak for baseball and so many other things in Washington.

Like so many other people at Thursday's game, we were closing a circle and beginning a new one, still a little bitter MLB took more than three decades to realize this city is more than a hearing room on Capitol Hill or a place where big shots head for the airport on weekends.

"I knew it was real when I saw the grass and the diamond," Powell said.

"I truly am I happy man tonight," Fries said. "This is fantastic -- fantastic for me, the city and people who remember."

We all agreed it was a nice touch for the Nationals to bring back Joe Grzenda, who handed the last ball used that night in '71 to President Bush, and to see Frank Howard, Chuck Hinton, Mickey Vernon, Fred Valentine, Ed Brinkman, Roy Sievers, Dick Bosman, Jim Hannan and Jim Lemon hand over the gloves to the current Nationals.

We liked the pregame hoopla fine, thrilled by the response of the 45,596 fans who filled the old but welcoming ballpark on East Capitol Street. And we understood the complaints of those fans who endured endless security checks, long lines in the upper-deck food stands, a scoreboard with numbers and words too small for at least one 64-year-old interested in knowing the count.

The crowds getting to Metro going home reminded me of the Sydney Olympics, but at least Metro was open and the complainers couldn't complain about the scrappy Nats' 5-3 victory.

"I'm just happy to have baseball," said Kathy LePage of Fairfax, "even if I can't see anything on the scoreboard."

"Hey, chill, it's a transitional stadium," her seat neighbor Betsy Whitesaw said. "And we've got our team on that field tonight."

Selig finally and reluctantly agreed to the franchise shift last fall, and that was good for him, and the president can play on anyone's ball team. But neither they nor many of the others in the good seats -- Lieberman, Dodd, McCain, Russert, Kemp, Stephanopoulos -- did anything in my view to make this happen.

This W belongs to Mayor Anthony Williams and his staff and Mark Touhey, chairman of the Washington Sports and Entertainment Commission.

And give a big-time save to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who headed MLB's relocation committee and rebuked many misconceptions of Washington and backed Peter Angelos off the plate enough of the time.

But most of all, this was a win for Washington area baseball fans who were ignored for 34 years but would not be denied.

Redskins' Crystal Ball

Few things in sports can match the fun of getting the Redskins' schedule each year and forecasting the outcome of their 16 games. My prediction the Redskins would go 16-0 last year was slightly off, so this year I'll be more conservative.

Sept. 11, Chicago: Win. Safety Sean Taylor returns two interceptions for touchdowns after missing all of training camp and showing up at Redskins Park two days before opener.

Sept. 19, at Dallas: Win. Wide receiver Santana Moss catches two touchdown passes after missing the opener because he mistakenly reported to the Ravens on Sept. 11 after spending the offseason and training camp in Miami with Taylor.

Oct. 2, Seattle: Win. Linebacker LaVar Arrington returns to lineup with a vengeance, leading the team to victory after being accorded honorary memberships in the American Bar Association and American Medical Association prior to kickoff.

Oct. 9, at Denver: Win. Quarterback Patrick Ramsey throws three touchdown passes. The defense manages without Taylor, who misses the game because of a weekend visit to Miami. A member of Taylor's posse, responding to news of the coach being on the phone, says "Joe Gibbs? Not taking his call."

Oct. 16, at Kansas City: Win. Coaches Gibbs and Dick Vermeil of the Chiefs honored by AARP before the game following a musical tribute to Guy Lombardo.

Oct. 23, San Francisco: Win. Redskins accord a "day" to superagent Drew Rosenhaus, who then advises fans not to show up to FedEx Field for the game. Game time moved up one hour to accommodate Nats in World Series.

Oct. 30, at New York Giants: Win. Taylor and Gibbs agree to do a commercial together for Verizon, with Taylor accepting his coach's call at halftime.

Nov. 6, Philadelphia: Win. Clinton Portis, jealous of fellow Miami Hurricane Taylor's endorsement deal with Verizon, stops taking calls from Gibbs, as well as from Joe Bugel, whose enthusiasm irritates diva running back.

Nov. 13, at Tampa Bay: Win. Arrington, a Pro Bowl selection front-runner, again leads Redskins to victory. Flushed with winning a $6 million arbitration ruling against the team, he immediately files another $6 million claim on general principles.

Nov. 20, Oakland: Loss. Norv Turner makes triumphant return to FedEx Field and hands his former team its first loss of the season. Afterward, WTEM's Steve Czaban calls for Gibbs's firing, claiming the 9-1 coach was listening to NASCAR races on his headset during games.

Nov. 27, San Diego: Loss. Marty Schottenheimer makes a triumphant return to FedEx Field, sending his former team into a major tailspin, prompting Riggo to charge Gibbs with doddering on the sidelines.

Dec. 4, at St. Louis: Win. Untradeable wide receiver Rod Gardner, who has been watching the previous 11 games from home on the flat-screen TV provided by the team owner, catches two touchdown passes to stop his and his team's skid.

Dec. 11, at Arizona: Win. Arrington, flushed with the possibility of yet another $6 million windfall from the Redskins, negotiates with the Bidwills at halftime to buy hapless Cardinals.

Dec. 18, Dallas:Win. It's "Tree Day" at FedEx Field, with the first 10,000 fans into the stadium receiving mini replicas of oaks and sycamores cut down by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

Dec. 24, New York Giants: Win. It's "General Manager's Day" at FedEx Field, with Post columnist Michael Wilbon finally getting his wish and selecting a GM for the Redskins in an "Apprentice"-like contest at halftime.

Jan. 1, at Philadelphia: Win. Redskins roar into the playoffs, despite Taylor and Moss not playing because they don't work holidays.

That's 14-2 for the regular season. A homer? Who's a homer?

Have a comment or question, reach me at talkback@washpost.com

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