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Tony Kornheiser

Cluck if You Love The Nats

By Tony Kornheiser
Monday, April 18, 2005; Page D01

I went to the first two Nats games, Thursday and Saturday nights. Since the Nats won both, I think I should be designated their official good luck charm and paid to appear. I am willing to wear a costume, though nothing that Prince Harry might pick out. I can see how it might be a bit awkward prancing on top of the dugout as Joseph Goebbels, leading the crowd in singing "Springtime for Hitler." (I wear costumes on "PTI" all the time. Wilbon refuses. "I have my career to think about," Wilbon tells me. "You have no career." Oh, like he does?) I rather liked the egg costume the Nats were trotting around last week. During a big rally I could pop out of the egg costume dressed as a chicken. Then everybody would know once and for all that the egg came first. As it turns out, the egg officially hatched yesterday and another lame-o stuffed-bird mascot named Screech poured out. Too bad. I was hoping for Kelly Ripa.

Anyway, what impressed me most about the Nats games (besides Vinny Castilla, who's making better contact than Mariah Carey in a crowded elevator) was all the hats. I couldn't believe how many people already have Nats hats. Every other head I saw was covered in a Nats hat. The red home hats with the white script "W"; the blue road hats; the interlocking "DC" hats. I also saw a bunch of women wearing pink hats with the script "W." Maybe I'm making too much of this, but you don't see many Wizards hats at the Wizards' games, or many Capitals hats at the Capitals' games. (Oh, that's right. There are no Capitals games.) You don't even see that many Redskins hats at the Redskins' games -- though it's possible many hats can't be seen because of the obstructed views.

But my point is the Nats have been in town about a week and everybody already seems into them. It must seem like a miracle to the players who played on the Expos, looking out from the dugout at all the people in the stands. Where are you going to see all those people in Montreal, other than a Celine Dion concert? Thursday and Saturday there were a total of 80,000 people at RFK. The players might not have seen that many fans in Montreal over 20 games -- unless the Expos had a "Hockey Puck Night." Baseball never took root in Montreal. If you can't find a way to get ice involved in your game up there, people don't come. (Maybe they should have frozen Jose Vidro, like Ted Williams's head.)

By the way, almost everything about going to the game was better for the second game than the first. Obviously, getting into the stadium is a lot easier without the president of the United States showing up. I have this same problem every time he comes over to my house for dinner -- or just drops in for a cup of coffee after a jog. I say, "George, for heaven's sake, the neighbors can't drive down the street because of the barricades. And I've got a line of Secret Service agents stretching down the deck and into the backyard waiting to use my bathroom. Do you have to travel with such a large entourage? What are you, Donald Trump? My D.C. Water and Sewer bill is going to be astronomical!" The worst part is when he brings Condoleezza Rice with him, and the two of them obsess about their fantasy baseball teams and whether to trade Sammy Sosa.

But with the president gone you could drive to the game and not sit in traffic around the stadium for hours. You could go through the turnstiles easier. There was more food to buy at the second game, and shorter lines.

The whole thing ran more smoothly. I would have liked the jet flyover one more time, but I guess by Saturday night they were somewhere like Kansas City.

For both games, I had seats in the right field stands -- once in the upper level and once in the lower. What I noticed was how different the Nats crowd seemed from other Washington sports crowds. The people were much more relaxed, much more patient, maybe owing to the nature of baseball, a game without clocks and time limits -- and the comfort of knowing that there's always another game tomorrow. But the fans just seemed more convivial, more leisurely at RFK than they are at MCI or FedEx. At Redskins games, fans are totally into the game from the opening kick. But they're belligerent; there's an anger and an edge to them that probably comes from how they perceive football fans should act after watching too many beer commercials and trying to live out some Coors Light fantasy.

At Wizards games you can feel a certain tightness in the stands, almost an impatience, as people wait for the last few minutes and the inevitable rush of effort that only seems to surface in the last few minutes. (Unless it's a playoff game, and forgive me but it's been awhile between playoff games here. The last time the Wizards actually won a playoff game they weren't even the Wizards, they were the Bullets. And they didn't play downtown, they played out on the Beltway. It was so long ago that when LaSooz went to the produce department in the Safeway and Giant, she wasn't thinking about Singles Night, she was thinking about buying two tomatoes and a head of lettuce. It was so long ago President Bush's father hadn't become president yet, and Danny Snyder hadn't cut down any trees. It was 1988, for God's sake.)

It's a terrific time for sports in Washington. The Nationals have a better record than the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. The Wizards have a better record than the Los Angeles Lakers. The Redskins haven't had any players march in and ask to be traded in at least three days. Finally, there's something to do in May, June and July besides wait for Redskins camp to open. That feels good, doesn't it?

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