Nats Have Tough Crowd to Please

Nats bigwigs, from left, Mark Lerner, Theodore Lerner, Stan Kasten, Robert Tanenbaum, Faye Fields and Rodney Slater were all smiles in 2006; will fans be happy this season?
Nats bigwigs, from left, Mark Lerner, Theodore Lerner, Stan Kasten, Robert Tanenbaum, Faye Fields and Rodney Slater were all smiles in 2006; will fans be happy this season? (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By George Solomon
Sunday, February 11, 2007

Thursday was the perfect day to think about baseball in Washington. A slight breeze was wafting across Connecticut and L streets NW, the sun was shining and except for it being 30 degrees, baseball was in the air. At least it was at the team's retail store in the Washington Square Building and in Viera, Fla., where on Thursday Nationals pitchers and catchers are scheduled to begin training for the team's third and final season at RFK Stadium.

On this day one could have had the run of the team store, choosing from a wide assortment of Nats apparel for kids, along with baseballs, hats galore and jerseys worn by former Nats Mike Stanton and Endy Chavez for $299 each. I do not know if Stanton and Chavez actually come with the jerseys.

The salesman said individual game tickets would not go on sale until later this month (Feb. 24). This was a surprise, because the 2007 schedule has been set for months and the fans who have been bombarded with bad stuff about the Nats all winter and still want to buy single game tickets should be accommodated.

The marketing of big-time sports is a story for another day. Today the subject on the table is how the Nats -- with the most inexperienced starting pitching staff in the major leagues -- can get through 2007 and open the new stadium in 2008 without alienating their fan base.

"I couldn't be more optimistic," said Stan Kasten, the president of the Nats. "We have a very good young offense, a much-improved defense and a solid group of relief pitchers." As for starting pitching, Kasten said, "there's no way to acquire top-level" pitchers, except to "develop your own, which we're trying to do."

That prospect may get frustrating this season. John Patterson -- who is coming off surgery to his pitching arm in 2006 -- is the mainstay of a staff that includes few familiar faces. But Kasten has lots of confidence in GM Jim Bowden ("he's very creative") and new manager Manny Acta ("he'll get the most out of the club"), and is counting on Washington's enthusiasm for the game and excitement over the new stadium opening in 2008.

There are other things to look forward to -- the continued development of Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson's recovery from a broken leg in 2006, Brian Schneider's steadiness behind the plate and Chad Cordero's ability to close.

"We're building something special," is how Kasten describes the club's strategy.

I would only ask, on behalf of fans, "In our lifetime?"

GU Basketball: 100 Years

Georgetown has celebrated the 100th anniversary of its men's college basketball program this season, including inviting more than 100 former players to town for yesterday's game at Verizon Center and a dinner last night. The weekend included announcing the fans' selection of the top 25 "all-century" team, which includes the likes of Patrick Ewing, Dikembe Mutombo, Allen Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, Reggie Williams and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd. Of course, none of this could have happened without John Thompson Jr., who coached the Hoyas from 1972 to 1999 and won the school's only NCAA basketball championship in 1984. The 22nd-ranked Hoyas, winners over No. 11 Marquette on Saturday, are now coached by John Thompson III.

"A century of Georgetown basketball is a monumental achievement," said GU associate athletic director Kyle Ragsdale, whose idea ignited the celebration.

Recently retired NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue (GU's No. 9 all-time rebounder) was to be honored with a Letterman of Distinction award. "We played a very competitive schedule," said Tagliabue, who graduated in 1962. "But John Thompson Jr. took the program to another level."

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