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The column incorrectly said that sportscaster James Brown played in the National Football League.
VIPs Warm to the Occasion

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Monday, March 31, 2008

G eorge Will waxed mytho-poetic, Cathy Lanier stylishly worked the room, and Dan Glickman cracked some of the worst baseball jokes you've ever heard ("You know, it's in the Bible: 'In the Big Inning . . .' ").

For Washington VIPs, there were two hot tickets in town last night -- not just an Opening Day seat at the new Nationals Park, but a coveted spot at the Lerner family's pre-party, a little casual-dress affair for 800 of their closest friends. Folks like Michael Chertoff, Norah O'Donnell, Maury Povich and Connie Chung, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato. Pretty much any boldface name not preoccupied with a presidential campaign or the NCAA regional finals showed up at the team owners' shindig on the top floor of a new office building two blocks from the stadium.

Such as Wolf Blitzer, incongruously dressed for a night in the stands. What's up with the suit and tie, Wolf? "I always wear a suit and tie for a historic event," the CNN newsman told us.

That was the mood. "I'm beyond excited," said Debra Lerner Cohen, daughter of principal owner Ted Lerner. They and 15 other Lerners (who would later host President and Laura Bush in the owners' box) were happily accepting congratulations from well-wishers. "It's the most thrilling day for the city and our family."

Well, of course she'd say that. Yet most of the guests shared the giddiness. Said filmmaker/activist/baseball aficionado Aviva Kempner, "It's like the Red Sea parted, and we have the Promised Land, and the Lerners are Moses." All right, then!

The party site -- a raw space dressed up with red-white-and-blue bunting and red carpet -- offered an exquisite view of the stadium, monuments and about a million construction cranes. Passed hors d'oeuvres included tuna with coconut, lamb chops, sushi and mini hamburgers and hot dogs, of which we sampled about two dozen and found to be up to the exacting Lerner standards. The centerpieces, glass vases filled with baseballs, were slowly being emptied by sticky-fingered souvenir seekers.

Hey, George Will -- you like baseball, right? The columnist and ABC pundit said he was impressed with what the Lerners hath wrought: "What they understand is that the ballpark is a destination in its own right. This is going to make baseball fans" -- meaning, create new ones.

There was a merry bipartisan duo: Rep. Tom Davis walked in with fellow NoVa congressman Jim Moran, just a couple of hours after returning from Afghanistan. "We bought our tickets, for the record," Davis said -- $60 apiece. Also in the room: HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, student-loan mogul/philanthropist Catherine Reynolds and NFL star-turned-commentator James Brown, who's a minority owner of the Nats. ("Baseball was my first love," he said.)

Cathy Lanier dropped by, and can we just say that the D.C. police chief looked hot in her long dress coat with epaulets and stars and a pair of sexy-tough boots -- very Condi-in-Wiesbaden. "I'm working!" she said before exiting. "I'm sure I'll get to enjoy a game sometime, but not today."

Adrian Fenty was there in a Nationals tie with little W's. The mayor let us know that he finished Saturday's National Marathon in 3:40, and said he wasn't concerned about last night's cool weather. "It's gonna be electric -- there will be warmth in the stands." Easy for him to say -- he and his family had seats in the Lerners' box!

Similarly, Terry McAuliffe, whom we ran into on the walk to the stadium. "I'm in one of the boxes," he admitted, shivering without a coat.

But not every VIP was sheltered. Roaming the stands we found White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and girlfriend Dede McClure in the primo first row behind the Nats dugout. In the same section: comedian Mark Russell, super-agent Bob Barnett and former mayor Tony Williams. One section over: Mark Warner. And close by, super-lawyer Bob Bennett, Judy Woodruff and Al Hunt. ("I've got a warm feeling all over," said the newsman.)

In the first row behind home plate, millionaire developer Joe Robert sat with former Marine commandant Mike Hagee; Steve Case was a couple rows back, as was Margaret Spellings. In the first row behind the visitors' dugout, Colin Powell marveled over the whiz-bang HD effects: "The scoreboard is the best I've ever seen anywhere." One section over, Tim Russert and James Carville shared their ballpark Zen. "Baseball is life," said Russert. "Politics? Pfft."

And the president? Bolten told us that before throwing out the first pitch (and drawing some boos, but nothing as loud as what Dick Cheney heard on Opening Day '06), Bush toured the clubhouse and greeted both teams. Is he a Nats fan? Bolten responded with the only politically correct comment of the night: "He's a baseball fan."

Sorely Tested Crowe Keeps His Cool

Breaking news! Russell Crowe once again failed to punch someone in the face Saturday night!

In nearly a month of filming "State of Play" in D.C., the famously hot-tempered Oscar winner has encountered all manner of provocations (autograph seekers, cherry blossom traffic, happy hours overrun by lawyers), but by all accounts has behaved like a gentleman. This past weekend he continued to keep his cool in the face of the most obnoxious irritant yet -- a loudmouth who crashed his movie shoot.

The scene was Mount Pleasant, where Crowe's scruffy-reporter character lives. Around midnight, as the crew filmed Crowe standing at a bus stop by tiny Lamont Park, a man burst onto the set, waving his arms and shouting that he could walk wherever he wanted. The man was ushered away and the scene was reshot -- but the guy kept yelling from the sidelines, witness Claudia Lujan told our colleague Sylvia Moreno, so Crowe walked over to him with two bodyguards.

"Man, this is my job, this is what I do," Crowe calmly told the man, according to Lujan. "Do you know how many millions it takes to film these shots and to redo them?" As the star walked away, the heckler exploded: "[Expletive] you, Russell Crowe! [Expletive] my [expletive]!"

That's when news almost happened. Lujan said Crowe spun around and started to walk back -- but his bodyguards reached out and advised the actor to let it be. He did, and police escorted the man from the set.

Lujan, a city policy analyst whose third-floor apartment (above Heller's Bakery and a Guatemalan restaurant) was used as Crowe's pad, applauded the actor's restraint. "He was very 'on,' honestly, talking to the guy calmly. The guy was really obnoxious. I just hope [Crowe] doesn't think everybody in Mount Pleasant is like that."

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