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Correction to This Article
A Sept. 30 Style article incorrectly identified Hank Thomas, grandson of Washington Senators pitcher Walter "Big Train" Johnson, as Hank Johnson.

For Baseball, Love at Third Sight

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page C01

You've been single for 33 years. The first wife? Off to Minnesota. The second wife? Off to Texas. So last night, in a room awash in deep orange hues, over champagne, peach cobbler and catfish fingers, the first date with the soon-to-be third wife is nothing short of heavenly.

The national pastime is back in the nation's capital -- and it's a chance (the final chance, perhaps?) at a new romance.


Baseball fans had something to cheer about at Georgia Brown's. (Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)

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"Enjoyment, now that's what this evening is all about," said an ebullient Mark Tuohey, holding a nearly empty glass in his right hand.

Tuohey is the point man on the deal to bring the Montreal Expos to the District, as chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, and he's standing in the middle of Georgia Brown's restaurant downtown, draped in baseball regalia: a blue-and-white baseball tie, a baseball pin on his left lapel, a red baseball hat with a W. He wasn't alone. Hats were everywhere -- a Red Sox hat on one sports fan, a jersey of the Negro League's Homestead Grays on another -- as were specially designed patches ("Senators: Bring 'em back").

"This is a signal accomplishment," said Tony Williams, "for all of us." The Mayor Who Brought Back Baseball. Surely that will be a part of his legacy.

There was a feeling of intimacy, certainly of joy, in the party, thrown by the D.C. government and attended by more than 80 special guests.

Just hours earlier, in a 16-minute news conference at the City Museum, Tuohey choked up, saying that "33 years ago, this very week, a conversation ended between the District and America's pastime." Now, surrounded by Williams, council members Harold Brazil, Sandy Allen and old-time Senators fans, Tuohey said with a sigh, "My love has been gone a long time, and we can't afford to lose her again."

She is that third wife -- younger, yes, imported from Montreal, yes, high-maintenance, yes, but embraceable all the same.

For baseball fans in the District, "it's gonna be hard to get our trust back completely," said Hank Johnson, grandson of the great Senators pitcher Walter "Big Train" Johnson. "I really hope, this third time around, that baseball stays here."

"I'm a Washingtonian," said the 58-year-old Johnson, who played third base in high school and college. "I want to root for my team."

Proud ownership -- "of a major league team in this major league city," said sports marketer Pat Malone -- was a big topic in the party, drowning out all other questions. But the team's name, whatever it will be, proved to be a conversation-starter. How about the Senators? The Washington Nationals?

"The Washington Grays?" asked Malone.

Malone remembered every detail of that last Senators game on Sept. 30, 1971. Washington was ahead of the Yankees, 7-5, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. It all ended when fans stormed the field in outrage, prompting the umpire to force the Senators to forfeit. Malone was 14 years old. He's 47 now, with a 15-year-old son, Brian -- "To take my son to that first game at RFK Stadium will be a huge day," he said -- and serves as president of the Alexandria Potomac Little League.

Kazz Montgomery, who DJ'd the party, was 9 or 10 when he last went to a Senators game. He hasn't been to a baseball game since.

"I don't like going to Baltimore," he said, smiling. He lives on Alabama Avenue SE, and he hopes the "economic renaissance" that began with MCI Center on Seventh Street NW will continue with the proposed $400 million baseball stadium on the Anacostia waterfront.

That's a pricey promise. But everyone wants this romance to be for keeps.

"She could look for a richer husband," said Montgomery. "So we must do everything to keep her happy."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company