In Baseball Melodrama, No Shortage of Critics

Rodney Smith, owner of a sporting goods store on Capitol Hill that has benefited from Washington Nationals-related sales, says he has come to oppose the baseball stadium deal.
Rodney Smith, owner of a sporting goods store on Capitol Hill that has benefited from Washington Nationals-related sales, says he has come to oppose the baseball stadium deal. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Robert E. Pierre and Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Washington Nationals put money in Rodney Smith's pocket this year as he rang up sales at his Capitol Hill athletic store for jerseys, T-shirts and license plates with the team's insignia. But as the price tag for a new stadium kept rising, Smith soured on the deal.

"We really don't have baseball -- baseball has got us," he said.

It's comments from constituents such as Smith -- in phone calls and in person -- that have emboldened several D.C. Council members to oppose the stadium lease and prompted Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to ask this week that the council delay action.

The latest sudden twist in Washington's seemingly endless baseball soap opera yesterday produced an eerie replay of the emotions that flared a year ago when the council narrowly agreed to build the stadium. Some residents were angry at baseball officials for not chipping in more money. Others were frustrated with District politicians for squandering an opportunity to build a ballpark in near Southeast that would be part of a larger retail and entertainment district.

"They've lobbied for a team for 25 years," said John Reilly, 53, an accountant who lives in Georgetown. "And now they're going to let it slip through their fingers."

Reilly said he sympathized with the mayor, who worked feverishly to find the District a team only to be undermined by a range of political and community forces. "Anthony brought a bride to town, and all the cousins asked why wasn't she taller, or prettier or a better cook. You know what? You got what you got."

But with the cost of the stadium project now estimated at $667 million, Smith said he's glad that the council is questioning whether the deal negotiated by the city and Major League Baseball makes sense. He said that he's watching closely to see where council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), considered one of the swing votes, will stand on the issue and that he'll remember come election time.

Brown said he's well aware of the scrutiny. The large number of e-mails, phone calls and face-to-face comments he has received from residents across the city are essentially telling him the same thing, he said: Baseball, yes, but not at any cost.

"Everyone seems to want baseball here, but they tell me you can't have an unauthorized amount that you can spend," said Brown, who was elected in November 2004 on an anti-stadium agenda. "We have set a limit on how much we can borrow but not on how much we can spend. No one else has done that. . . . We have a bad deal. The question is how do we deal with this bad deal."

Quintin Young Sr. and Bay Samuel said the council ought to ditch the idea of a new stadium. The two men were at the Elks Lodge on Good Hope Road SE in Anacostia, resting after delivering toys and food to needy families. The city has too many other needs that are more pressing, the men said -- schools, recreation, the homeless.

"I love having the team," said Young, who attended several Nationals games at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium last season. "But we've already got a stadium. Everything is already there."

A couple of doors down at the Pretty Boy Association, a business that sells clothing and sponsors self-improvement workshops, Chamarkco Amin, the president, said the city needs to quit messing around and approve the deal.

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