Baseball

Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006; 11:00 AM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Friday, March 24, at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

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Rockville, Md.: Was the fact that the Nationals didn't speak to Soriano, before the trade for him, an inexcusable blunder by Jim Bowden?

Tom Boswell: No.

Though some may claim it. The Nats, like many in baseball, knew or assumed that Soriano didn't WANT to switch positions. But an average or poor defensive player almost never wants to change if he's a fine hitter and, thus, has some leverage. They simply thought there was a very high percentage chance that --like almost everybody-- he would initially balk, but come around fairly quickly. They were wrong. He was seriously put off. Perhaps as much as anybody during my time.

The key issue, for me, is that this controversy decreases the chances that Soriano will sign a long term contract with the Nats this season. It doesn't eliminate it. Strange things happen. Baseball always surprises me. The Nats now look this may soon be one of the higher revenue teams. Soriano may not have a better offer from a richer team with a better chance to be a winner in the next 3-5 years than the Nationals. Also, if he develops into a good outfielder --even slightly above average-- he may enjoy the praise and attention he gets for it. It's unlikely he'll look good in Florida with high winds, high skies and a low grandstand. Even good outfielders can look horrible down here. But let's see where he is in June. By then, will he be traded? For whom? Will he be unhappy? Or, and this isn't "off the board" yet, will he begin to think that ALL the people all over baseball who thought he should move to the OF weren't so dumb?

Also, and few mention this, what if Vidro stays healthy, hits well in April and is traded for a No. 3 starter. Suddenly Soriano would be back at first base, the Nats could say, "Psssst, think maybe this is what we had in mind all the time?" (Even though it wasn't.

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Downtown, Washington, D.C.: I noticed that ticket prices have gone up. Has the team made any improvements at RFK for the coming year? Concessions? The PA system? Will they be able to show replays? Anything?

Tom Boswell: I haven't heard of many/any improvements. But (seriously) a new owner is coming and it is ASSUMED that one of his first acts will be to pump some money into RFK. He HAS to or he'll get killed by everybody. He's getting a new ballpark free. Just from a business perspective, he HAS to fix up the old facility. I think it's a very safe assumption that either the Malek or Lerner groups would do this.

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Not sore at Soriano: What are the chances that everyone will make nice all season, Soriano will be decent in left, and we'll be able to sign him for the long term? He's such a quality guy and player. My life-long-Yankees-fan husband kicked them to the curb when they didn't hang on to him.

Tom Boswell: Soriano has a WONDERFUL reputation among other players for being cheerful, a fine teammate. It can't be baloney because it is universal and unsolicited testimony. THAT is the wild card. The psychological book on him is that he always HATES change in any part of his life. But, once he adapts, he doesn't like to change again. So, it's possible that, if he enjoys Washington and his new teammates as much as his friend Jose Guillen did last year, he may have a considerably different attitude toward being a National by mid-season. But to get him resign --which is still less than a 50-50 deal in my mind, perhaps considerably less-- it has to get done before the middle of the season. You can't be like the Orioles --wait all or most of the season to protect yourself against the possibility that the play will get hurt-- and then expect him to love you and sign with you in the last two months of the season. It doesn't work that way.

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Washington, D.C.: I heard that some new outfit is taking over the broadcast of Nationals games on the radio. What station will they be on now? Do you think I'll be able to get the signal in the ballpark this year?

Tom Boswell: The Nats will be on 1500 AM which has a signal so strong it will knock your socks off. I was driving from Orlando to Viera and heard a discussion of the Nats on the station as clear as a bell down here. Everybody in the D.C. area will have a Grade A signal this year. The TV situation may be atrocious but the radio is now up to MLB standards.

See, things are getting better. Slowly. But they're getting there. Soriano plays LF. Ramon Ortiz goes six shutout innings yesterday on 62 pitches and Schneider says he looks "awesome." The radio deal is fixed. We're getting a new stadium. (That is BIG. See my e-mail column today on that.) The Nats should have an owner by Opening Day (one of them) it's assumed MLB intends to have an owner in place.

And RFK will be improved. How soon? We'll see. Of course I'll stam my foot about that. But so will everybody else. It's obvious. And it'll get done. The question is just how soon and how well will it be done.

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Arlington, Va.: Just read your e-column about the new stadium. I agree with you that we should be glad we are getting a cutting-edge park instead of a Disneyfied Fenway knockoff.

My concern is the 3,000 club seats that are slated to be built behind home plate. I have great reasonably-priced ($45) seats (Sec. 213) there now and I am going to be livid if I am told I have the option of paying $100 a ticket or be relocated out to the foul pole to make way for fat cat lobbyists. I still have one of those lost "Baseball in '87" savings accounts and I'm not going to be happy if my long-standing support for the team gets rewarded with bad seats!

Tom Boswell: As I have said, everybody is going to pay more for the same seat in a new stadium. You sit in the driver's seat whether you drive a Ford or a Porsche. But that seat doesn't COST the same!

So, enjoy the prices (upper deck) at RFK and the perfect parking and subway situation. Enjoy the "authenticity" (grunge). The situation in Nationals Park --as far as the ratio between price-and-quality-of-seat will be halfway between what you get now in RFK and what you fear.

The average fan in RFK last year spent $26 on a seat and $15 on all the other stuff. In the new park it will probably be more like $35 and $20. (Some of that is inflation, but not much.) OK, say "Ouch." But without a new park, Washington doesn't get a team. And seats in new parks are more expensive than ones in a 45-year-old stadium. That's life.

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Alexandria, Va.: I anxiously await your laudatory comments and ringing endorsement of the job Jim Bowden has done. Please tell me how wonderful he is for extricating himself from a problem of his own creation. I cannot wait to hear how smart Bowden is for continually frittering away pitching depth. I will hang on your every word of how well-respected he is within the GM fraternity and how he should be held up as an example of how a small market GM does business in today's MLB environment (Oakland, Minnesota, and Cleveland are mere anomalies in building a long term foundation on a limited budget). Please inform us uninformed fans how we should count ourselves lucky to be in the presence of such an astute GM.

Tom Boswell: A typical Bowden basher. You can say he's done an OK job with some pit falls or you can say he's done a good job. Anybody who says he's done a bad job is...well...has everybody forgotten that he made a ton of trades that helped last year's team finish 81-81 --10 gems ahead of expectations-- and start in a post-season race until the final two weeks.

Don't forget, he got Jose Guillen for peanuts. He could have blundered and not taken Zimmerman. Plenty of GM's have outthought themselves and done worse. Zimmerman looks even better than expected. I'm always fascinated by Bowden's ability to inspire critics. I don't get it. Maybe he just sells himself too much. Or maybe --probably-- it's the sarcastic bash-'em-first-and-think-later tone of the current sports period.

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Washington, D.C.: Why does RFK get such a bad rap? After all, how cool is it to watch the stands along the third base line rock up and down. The place has some energy to it...reminds me of the heyday of the Skins. Sure, it's got some warts, but more importantly it has character.

Tom Boswell: I really enjoyed the place last year and actually look forward to another season there. The Cards explained to me how cheap it was to fix up Busch Stadium in the late-'90's. If RFK doesn't have a heckuva nice facelift for the '07 season, then the new owner isn't as smart about public relations and nurturing a new fan base as I think he'll be.

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sect 410: tom, what a great article on Davey Johnson!everybody but Peter the Great, can trace the O's decline to letting him and Gillick get away. angelos will never get it, though.

I have several on-line reports that it is well known that a lerner/kasten group is getting the team. are we in the paperwork stage on this now? are they waiting to make a splash on opening day? what are you hearing?

thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Johnson Remains Orioles' Unforgettable Fire (Post, March 24)

Tom Boswell: Thanks. Great to see Davey back and in good health after being close to death from a condition that doctors couldn't figure out just 16 months ago. And it's also good that he has put his ill-will toward Angelos to rest. As they say, time heals all wounds and wounds all heels. Glad to see that Peter sent flowers to Andrea's funeral. A small gesture you might say, but I think it's a good sign. The Orioles look considerably better so far this spring. I think they could be surprisingly fun to watch (relative to the last eight years). Nick Markakis went 4-for-4 yesterday and looked like a young Paul O'Neil --6-2, 195 and sprays the ball with authority to all fields. May develop more power later but looks like a 40-double, 15-18 homer guy as soon as he's deemed ready to come up and play the outfield.

How soon will that be? Nobody, including Sam (who's the one that counts), has made up his mind. At 22, Markakis could force his way to Baltimore for Opening Day and play a lot. Frankly, he looks like the best hitter in the Oriole outfield right now. BUT with such a good prospect, you never want to rush him. Bringing him up in mid-season or September might work fine. One Orioles coach said, "How long has it been since we developed an IMPACT every day players? Ripkin? This kid has the potential to be the next one." Well, it hasn't been that long (Roberts) but the enthusiasm for Markakis is justified, IMO.

As to Lerner and Stan getting the team, if it works out that way, you certainly heard it all here FIRST.

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Nationals Stadium: Tom,

What do you think of the new stadium design? I kind of like it, but I am afraid that such a Modern design might fall victim to "value engineering" weasels.

Tom Boswell: The value-engineering weasels are a huge concern. I'll be in the ear of the new owners (for whatever good it does) from Day One to make sure they understand the original intentions of the architects --which are consistent, as far as I can judge-- with a growing intern ational trend in sports-facility design. You might want to check out my e-mail column on this trend, which architecture critic Paul Goldberger wrote about this week in the New Yorker. The designs of the stadiums for the World Cup in '06 (Munich) and the '08 Olympics are both moldern, sleek, translucent/transparent, light-not-heavy. They aren't shaped like the new Nats park, of course, but the "feel" of them --if the new park is done properly-- should be similar. That is the direction sports architecture is going (belatedly, of course). Washington doesn't seem to know it but they may get a park that is, in some ways, cutting edge. We'll see. Stadiums with similar concepts have already gotten huge praise --just not in the U.S. yet.

Of course, it's all in the execution. And, last time I checked, I wasn't an architect. But I think the up-side potential is considerably greater than some fans assume.

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RFK Upper Deck: Boz, I think this name for the new stadium has a nice ring to it, Tom Boswell Field at Post Park, what do you think?!

Go Nats!

Tom Boswell: The Post will go for it.

(Oh, I forgot, they'd have to buy the naming rights, wouldn't they. I think the odds just went down. ;-)

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Washington, D.C.: How can I register to receive your e-mail columns? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: See A Sample / Sign Up Now

Tom Boswell: There you go.

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Mclean, Va.: Thommy, the reason that most (not all) discussion about the new stadium subsided partly rests with the fact that the plans were not fully revealed to the public, if there exist renderings of the stadium illuminating the neighborhood at night and so forth. We never saw them, yet most games will be played at night.

Some commenters on the Web have noted that Larry Lucchino saved the design of Oriole Park by intervening, so why wasn't public input solicited earlier in the design of this hotly contested stadium?

Tom Boswell: The Major was concerned that too many cooks would spoil the design, especially since it was something that had never been attempted before in a US ballpark --lots of glass and glow. Remember, Councilman Jack Evens balked at what he saw and wanted more red brick and retro. I think the major was right. Joe Spear (HOK) and Marshall Purnell (one of the top African-American architects in America) did a fine job, IMO amateur opinion. We'll see if it gets executed.

Everybody thinks they are a ballpark architect. They aren't. The major got top pros and left it to them. Regardless of how it works out, that's how you should do it.

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Washington, D.C.: Are Cordero and Majewski in good shape and ready to pitch 200 innings each this year?

Tom Boswell: They may have to. I worry about them both. They were "rode hard" last year. The Nats aren't going the Series this year. Don't burn 'em up.

Felix Rodriguez (6.2 shutout innings here and looked excellent yesterday) is EXACTLY the player you would have brought in if you had know --by crystal ball-- that Ayala would get hurt. He's had a long, fine career that's only half-a-level behind Ayala's numbers. But he had one off-season last year with the Yankees. So, somebody gambled (a little) that he'd bounce back to form this year. Now who could that prescient person have been --a guy who looks for proven-players-at-a-discount who have had one bad year, like Loaiza last year after a miserable '04. Oh, yeah, that bum Bowden.

Bergmann, who looked good in relief last September, came in overweight and he may start the season in the minors. Gryboski (1.59 in 8g and 11.1 innings here) also looks good. He was with Atlanta last year. Bowden brought him in, too. Gee, is ikt possible he thought, "You can n ever get too much decent relief pitching." Especially after how much work the pen got last year, I suspect JM thought SOMEBODY would blow out. (He tried to keep Ayala out of the WBC.)

Still, it sure would have been nice to spend a few dollars more and get an MRI on Lawrence before you tarded for him, even though he'd never missed a start. Hindsight is wonderful. But that looks very penny-wise-pound-foolish and falls at Bowden's door. As Frank...hmmm...has pointed out.

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Fairfax, Va.: Tom, I have been to Camden Yards a few times, and my biggest objection is that many of the seats (at least along the 3rd base line in the outfield) are oriented so that you have to lean forward and turn hard to watch the batter...It gets pretty uncomfortable after a while! I have heard many others also object to that...SO if you are going to be in the new owners ears on stadium concerns....can you add this to your list of issues?

Tom Boswell: Excellent point. That's the "flaw" in Camden Yards. It was spotted quickly. (But not quickly enough.) I doubt that any other park has made the same mistake since.

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Rockville, Md.: What is the rest of MLB's (other owners, GM's, players, other baseball higher-ups)opinion on Peter Angelos? We already know what both O's and Nat's fans think of him. It seems like the only thing the 2 fanbases agree on.

Tom Boswell: Now that there is a universal consensus on Peter throughout the western World I expect that opinions will move back the other way --over time.

If the Orioles win just 85 games this year, and show promise for the future, you'll be surprised how much his "image" changes. (Okay, maybe not THAT much.)

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Philadelphia, Pa.: As one of the very first members of the Nats diaspora (it might take us a few more years for us to catch up with Red Sox Nation, however) - Who is likely to see more Nats games on TV, me on Comcast in Philly or your average Montgomer County cable subscriber?

And yes, I actually get a 1500 AM signal up here as well.

Tom Boswell: My bet is on Philly.

Although I would think that, of all issues, the one which has obsessed any new Nats owner THE MOST is how to get his games on TV as soon as possible.

"How are you going to improve the TV disaster?" will be one of the first three questions he is asked. In fact, it may be No. 1 even before the requisite moronic, "How does it FEEL to own the Nationals?"

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Washington D.C.: Hey Tom,

In all honesty, why are umpires so fat? Do you have any sort of theory?

Tom Boswell: They secretly keep Bar-B-Q chips and dip inside their chest protectors.

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New Nats' ballpark RF power alley: Boz,

Loved your column. Have to agree that I'm very impressed with the new Olympic and soccer stadiums around the world. Have you seen the renderings of the new home of Arsenal and the new Wembley Stadium?

About the new Nats' ballpark... the main concern I have is that 370 feet to the RF power alley is too short. We don't want the Nats playing in a bandbox. Can we convince HOK to go with a more pitcher-friendly (but not deadly to hitters) 380 feet to the RF power alley?

washingtonpost.com: Johnson Remains Orioles' Unforgettable Fire (Post, March 24)

Tom Boswell: HOK thinks that "the Nats wanted a pitchers park soi that's what we gave them" (Spear)

Wedll, 370 in the alleys is radically different than the current miss-marked 380 (which is still more like 389).

I told Spear that if RF was really 370 it would be at least 15 feet closer than RFK because the fences were measureed wrong. He said he thought that was "urban myth." I told him, "Barry and I measured it with a 300-foot tape. And the Nats then remeasured it with a laser. They then said it was 395 feet six inches, not 380."

Nats hitters will rejoice at the dimensikons of the new park which should only be SLIGHTLY a pitchers park --and then only relative to the current saturation of bandbox parks.

There is still NO PARK as tough to hit in as RFK. Adjust every ERA and offensive stat accordingly. If Soriano hits 27 homers this year, not 35, that will be plenty.

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Alexandria, Va.: How does one learn to play left field at a major league level in one week?

Tom Boswell: By playing baseball all of one's life from the age of 5.

By catching a million popups as a second baseman.

By being fast enough to steal 30 bases.

Nats fielders have been staggering under routine fly balls down here all spring. It's been awful. They haven't fielded as well as the Navy teams of recent years in the Patriot League that I sometimes watch for fun. Soriano was the first Nats outfielder I've seen all spring who tracked three routine fly balls on Thursday, and caught all of them with his glove directly over the insignia on his chest and without any last-second adjustments despite a 25 mph wind.

He'll make the routine plays immediately. He'll charge groundball hits better than almost anybody else. His arm is OK. The real worry, to me, is that he'll run into a wall or another fielder. And that is a worry.

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Mclean, Va.: Hey Tom--This baby-boomer loooooved your age of aquarius column this week! Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: And a Great Joy Visited the Team " (Post, March 23)

Tom Boswell: Just so I never use a Frank Sinatra or Beatles lyric.

Actually, my 19-year-old son is in charge of keeping me semi-up-to-date.

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Anthony Williams: Who the heck is "the Major"?

Tom Boswell: Ha! I think that would be the Mayor.

Think maybe I've typed out MLB to many times in my life?

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Manassas, Va.: Mr. Boswell:Whatever happened to Mike Hinckley? I heard a lot about him last spring, but nothing since. The talk was that he was a hot propect. Also, do see any moves on the horizon for the Nats? They seem to have some outfield depth that may allow a move. Will it be watson or Byrd in center? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: The stautus of supposed "prospects" changes constantly. I said last spring that Hinckley looked like a soft-tosser to me, which isn't what you uisually want in young pitchers. the Nats No. 1 project in the winter was to add DEPTH, since they couldn't afford stars on the MLB-dictated budget.

With Soriano in, it looks like Watson will probably be olut. They want him to play every day in AAA, not sit on the bench at RFK. Byrd is a MUCH improved hitter since Page worked with him last year and has continued to hit over .300 here. You'll see him against lefthanders, at the least.

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Washington, D.C.: What are the chances that after the new owner is named they make their first order of business:

1 - Announce to all that any costs past $611 million, they'll be happy to cover (including making sure we have glass instead of steel panels)?

2 - Sue Angelos for the broadcast rights for the team that THEY OWN?

Tom Boswell: The chances SHOULD BE exactly 100%, IMO.

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Dunkirk, Md.: How come David Newhan rarely gets included in the discussion about the left field spot for the Orioles. He's hitting,what,429 with a high OBP and is stealing bases. What's up

Tom Boswell: He has my vote. Talked to him yesterday. He seems upbeat about getting to play more this spring. I've sat next to his father Ross in the press box too many times not to root for him. Great kid, nice ballplayer, can player several posiitons. Should be getting 300-400 at bats for somebody.

Lots of great questions today. Wish I didn't have to catch an airplane, but I do. See you next week.

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Ashburn, Va.: Boz:

The newsletter sign up page says that I'm signed up for yours, but I've never received it. I think I signed up about a month ago. Any suggestions?

washingtonpost.com: Double check to make sure you entered the correct email address (see "Change Your Email Address" at the top of the sign-up page ). And try clicking the "submit" button again at the bottom right-hand corner of the sign-up page .

Tom Boswell: Now that's a question I'm not going to forget to answer.

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Tom: Every year around this time I like to get my hands on a few good baseball books. Any recommendations?

Tom Boswell: I just started Barry Svrluga's book on the Nats first season --"National Pastime" -- and it's excellent so far. As you'd expect. I would think that would be the natural No. 1 choice for anybody who reads this chat.

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