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After 33 Joyless Years, Fans Counting the Days

Longtime Senators Loyalists Share the Jubilation With a New Generation

By Paul Schwartzman and Manny Fernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page A01

The mood in the City Museum's Great Hall was near-giddy. John Fogerty's stadium anthem, "Centerfield," blared over loudspeakers. A crowd of kids, some wearing baseball uniforms and carrying balls, hunted for autographs from former Washington Senators.

Baseball was back in the nation's capital, and a generation of frustration was over.

Isaiah Faulk, 13, left, laughs with other area school baseball players at the announcement of a team for Washington. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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Charlie Brotman, public address announcer for the Senators from 1956 to 1971, took the microphone. "Shout it from the rooftops -- let's play ball!" he yelled to rousing cheers.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, wearing a familiar bow tie and a not-so-familiar red cap with a "W" on it, grinned when it was his turn. Then he said it. The Montreal Expos would be Washington's team .

His 5 p.m. announcement was the thunderclap on a day in which talk of the national pastime buzzed across the region as it hadn't since the Washington Senators jilted the city in 1971, leaving behind legions of bitter fans. And it came after years of frustrated attempts to lure back baseball, so the District could rejoin the ranks of cities that have a major league team.

When Williams took the mike in front of a crowd that included several former Senators, he kept his mayoral composure even as the crowd whistled, hollered and roared. He knew he had the prize he had sought so long.

"This is a great day in Washington, isn't it?" he asked.

And the future? Across the region, from lunchtime crowds in Maryland to watering holes in Virginia, some expressed concern about commuting into the city to see games, and there were the naysayers who said they doubted that the new team would achieve greatness. But those sentiments were dwarfed by soaring excitement that the District was reclaiming a game that for generations was an integral part of the city's life.

"I love it," exclaimed Tom McGettrick, 64, a long-ago Senators fan, as he sat at the bar at the Hawk n' Dove on Capitol Hill, where a note in a glass box near the entrance reads: "Play Ball!!!!"

Norman Greenbaum, 55, of Mount Airy was eating a late lunch in Rockville with his son when he heard the news. "I will go, absolutely!" the former District resident shouted. Referring to the long absence of a team, he said, "We missed a whole generation here."

In the Southwest Washington neighborhood that borders the proposed Southeast site for the new stadium, residents said they were excited about the prospect of walking to games. But they want more than just tickets.

"I want a job," said construction worker James Whren, 58, as he sat outside his Half Street SW rowhouse, a few blocks from the proposed stadium site. "If they're going to build over there, I want to be part of it."

Whren said he looked forward to introducing the game to his son, Remy, 11, whose sporting interests leaned more toward football and basketball than baseball. Whren said that when he grew up in Southwest, he and his friends devoted their summers to following the Senators.

"When you went to the barbershop, it was what people were talking about," he said. "There were baseball leagues for the kids. You don't have any of that now. You don't hear the kids talk about baseball. Maybe this will change that."

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