For Nats, It's Hard To Dig In

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 12, 2006

The two most powerful executives of the Washington Nationals, team president Tony Tavares and Executive Vice President Kevin Uhlich, share a modest, two-bedroom rental apartment in Foggy Bottom. General Manager Jim Bowden lives in a downtown hotel. To the best of anyone's knowledge, not a single player has purchased a house in the Washington area, preferring to rent instead. The shorter the lease, the better.

So it has been since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington following the 2004 season, and so it continues to be. Job insecurity is a fact of life in baseball, no matter the team. But for the Nationals it is the overwhelming, guiding principle.

"Unfortunately, it's interim housing," Bowden said, "for a bunch of people with interim positions."

Perhaps that will all change very soon. On Monday, Major League Baseball officials are expected to reveal whether they find acceptable the terms of the stadium lease agreement as outlined by the D.C. Council this week. If they do, the future of the Nationals franchise in Washington appears secure; in the coming weeks, MLB would be expected to sell the team it has owned for more than four years.

However, if baseball finds the terms of the stadium lease unacceptable, the franchise could be plunged back into the sort of vagabond existence it knew for much of this decade. The coming weeks and months would be filled with speculation as to which localities -- perhaps Northern Virginia, or Las Vegas -- the team will be relocated to next.

"The majority of our people rent," said Tavares. "When they ask us, 'Are you certain about the stadium lease going through?' we say we can't tell them that with any certainty. So when there's uncertainty, you tend to err on the side of caution. We just don't know what's going to happen."

"Obviously," said Bowden, "I'd feel more comfortable buying a house and settling in. I've really enjoyed the city of Washington. But you just can't do that without knowing what's in store for you."

Ironically, team employees such as Tavares, Uhlich and Bowden have more job security with MLB owning the franchise than they will as soon as it is sold. Tavares, who formerly ran the Anaheim Angels, was handpicked by Commissioner Bud Selig in 2002 to run the Expos. Tavares, in turn, hired Uhlich, his former right-hand man in Anaheim, to help with the start-up in Washington. Bowden was hired as GM in November 2004.

When Uhlich accepted the position in October 2004, he figured the job would last until the following spring, at which point it was expected the team would be sold and he would be let go by the n ew owners. That was fine with him, because he has a wife and three children who have continued to live in Orange County, Calif., while he spends weeks at a time in Washington.

"It's tough now, going on 15 months," Uhlich said. "My kids ask, 'When are we going to find out if we're going to move?' I just say, 'I don't know. Hopefully soon.' "

Some of the groups vying for the right to purchase the Nationals are known to have their own designated team presidents. Some of those groups, too, no doubt have thought about potential GM candidates.

"Many of us have accepted the fact we don't know what the new owner is going to do," Tavares said. "But we accepted a responsibility here. We've convinced the majority of our employees that an owner isn't going to come in here and make wholesale changes right away. Ticket sales department, for example -- that's not something a new owner is going to change immediately."

If anything, the players have the least to fear as they contemplate the future. As is the case throughout baseball, their comings and goings are dictated more by an increasingly open marketplace than by the philosophies of ownership. It is not uncommon for players on all teams to rent an apartment in the team's home city, but spend their offseasons wherever "home" is.

"I spent five and a half years in the minors, always on the move," said Nationals reliever Gary Majewski, 25, a third-year player who rents an apartment in Washington. "Guys are used to moving around. You could buy a house somewhere, and -- bam -- you get traded."

In January, Nationals catcher Brian Schneider signed a contract that will keep him with the franchise for four more years, giving up his right to free agency, for which he would have been eligible at the end of the 2007 season. At the time he signed, the Nationals' future in Washington appeared more secure than it does now, but Schneider said he has no regrets.

"I just wanted to be with the Nationals," he said. "It's the only organization I've ever been with. This is just another hurdle in the road."

Meantime, Tavares, whose real home is in Lake Tahoe, Nev., laughs at the irony of living life like a ballplayer -- in an apartment in a city thousands of miles from home, with a roommate who is also a teammate, on a year-to-year lease.

Would he be living like this were it not for the Nationals' unique situation?

"I would hope not," he said, "unless my roommate were very beautiful, and as long as my wife didn't mind."

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company