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Season Over, Nats Head For Home
Despite Fan Bonding, Few Live in D.C. Area

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 3, 2005

Outfielder Brad Wilkerson plans to play a little golf, maybe at his favorite course, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, then hit the road to his off-season home in Palm Beach, Fla.

Pitcher Chad Cordero intends to say goodbye to the friends he met at McFaddens in Georgetown, then fly home to Orange County, Calif. Pitcher John Patterson will surrender his rental furniture, turn in the keys to his apartment near MCI Center and return to Orange, Tex.

The Washington Nationals closed out their inaugural season yesterday, and by the end of this week, their performance on the field will not be the only thing that is a memory. Most of the players will be gone, too, as they leave their adopted city and head across the country to home bases as disparate as the Nationals themselves.

Because professional ballplayers often switch teams, it is common for a player to live in a different city in the off-season. That is especially true for the Nationals because last season, the team was in Montreal and virtually none of the players was familiar with the Washington region.

"No one is from here. Most guys still live where they grew up," said Cordero, who rented an apartment near Old Town Alexandria this season while his brother and friend looked after the home he owns in Orange County.

Although the region's baseball fans have felt a growing bond with their hometown heroes, the players appear to be taking awhile to settle in. Outfielder Ryan Church is heading to Ohio to get married, and even rookie Ryan Zimmerman, who grew up in Virginia Beach, is acting like a well-traveled veteran when he says he will buy a place in Florida in the coming weeks.

"Home is where I keep my clothes and sleep at, kind of like a hotel," said Patterson, who frequented some downtown restaurants, such as the Chop House and Old Ebbitt Grill, but otherwise did not explore Washington.

Patterson lived in Arizona when he played for the Diamondbacks because he liked the weather and area. But when he was traded to Montreal, he decided to base himself in his Texas home town.

"This was our first year, so not everyone spent a lot of time trying to figure out the area," he said. "My focus when I went home was to get some rest and prepare to pitch."

From the top of the organization down, Nationals executives, coaches, players and staff members said they would have liked to have spent more time learning about their new environs but had little time to do so. Most did not arrive in the city until an April 3 exhibition game, and even then were here just one night before embarking on an 11-day road trip to start the season.

Helped by spouses, girlfriends and real estate agents, they took rentals mostly in Bethesda, Georgetown, Arlington and Alexandria. The living arrangements varied from a three-bedroom house in McLean for third baseman Vinny Castilla -- whose wife and three kids left their permanent home in Denver to live with him during the summer -- to a five-bedroom, two-level suite at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown for pitcher Livan Hernandez, whose two Ferraris and Range Rover were parked safely under the building.

While lesser-known players said that they were not recognized at the beginning of the season and that their celebrity is only now growing, Hernandez has been mobbed at Houston's steak house and drew a big ovation when his face was flashed on the MCI Center's big-screen scoreboard during a Wizards game in April.

Hernandez, who owns homes in Puerto Rico and Miami, has enjoyed his time in Washington so much that he said he intends to buy a four-bedroom place at the Ritz, where he plans to be joined next season by his girlfriend, a pro volleyball player in Spain, and his dogs, which are in Miami.

"It's a great city. I want to stay for the new stadium," Hernandez said, referring to the ballpark scheduled to open in near Southeast Washington in 2008.

One experience was common to Hernandez and his mates: None had much success with the region's roads.

Castilla got lost on the George Washington Parkway more than once, and Hernandez said he was so mystified by the District's maze that he was an hour late to the ballpark when he was scheduled to pitch for the historic first home game, arriving at 6 p.m.

Manager Frank Robinson, who rented a place in Northwest, said he stopped more than once to ask for directions.

"But you know what?" he said yesterday. "Even people who live here don't know their way around."

Players said infielder Cristian Guzman bought a house in Virginia, although he declined to confirm that. He might be the only member of the organization other than baseball information director John Dever who bought locally.

Wilkerson, who lived in the same building as Patterson, said he might buy in the area next season, adding that he probably will look in Northern Virginia.

Conversely, infielder Jamey Carroll, who rented in Alexandria, said he might move closer to the city. Carroll paid $1,900 per month for a two-bedroom/two-bath place on the fifth floor of the Carlyle Mill apartments, a modern garden-style complex near the Capital Beltway. His wife, Kim, an executive at The Gap, arrived a few weeks into the season from San Francisco and helped decorate the place. But they will give up the apartment by next month and move to a home in Melbourne, Fla.

"One day I walked around the Reflecting Pool, but I never took full advantage of being in D.C.," Carroll said.

Some in the organization are waiting to determine their futures before possibly settling here. Executives, coaches and other employees do not know whether they will be retained when the team gets a new owner later this fall.

Team President Tony Tavares bunked all season in a two-bedroom Foggy Bottom rental apartment with his top aide, Kevin Uhlich.

Tavares, whose grown daughter slept on the couch when she visited last week, said he'd look to buy near Georgetown if he lands a long-term job here.

But as coaches and players cleaned out their lockers yesterday, tossing their belongings into large cardboard boxes that will be shipped to spots across the country, some weren't sure if they'd be back.

"I have a one-year contract. Don't buy, don't buy," Robinson said with a laugh. "I'll explore Washington more if and when I get a job."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company