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Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 12, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post sports columnist Thomas Boswell was online Thursday, March 12 at noon ET to take your questions about the Nationals spring training, the World Baseball Classic, the latest sports news and his recent columns.

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The transcript follows.

Boswell Discussion Archives

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FC, Va.: Nats keep talking about using their excess outfielder/1st basemen as trade bait; however, do any of those guys have any trade value at all (considering their contracts)? NJ can't stay healthy, Kearns's contract is ridiculous considering his lack of production for the last 2 years, the Marlins practically had to give Willingham away over the winter, WMP has never proven he's a major leaguer, Dukes is a still-unproven head case, Milledge still hasn't proven he's a bona fide major league center fielder and Dunn (not that they'd trade him) apparently couldn't find any takers other than the Nats.

Tom Boswell: FC,

Some of that is a little harsh! The early returns on Dunn, especially his play and his personality with the U.S. team in the WBC, may be an early tip off that he's going to work out well.

But you're right, it's going to be very tough to trade Nick Johnson or Austin Kearns because of their contracts($5.5M and $8M), though big chunks of contracts can be eaten if you think you're getting a decent prospect in return. All winter, the Nats believed that NJ, if healthy, could be moved. However, the weak economy and the drop in contracts has made him harder to trade. Also, he's 3-for-16 with two homers and five walks in spring training, plus his usual good glove, so they'll be tempted to fall back in semi-love with him. Kearns' stock is as low as AIG. He's still respected in the Nats clubhouse but probably nowhere else. He has to reprove himself completely.

Nevertheless,you absolutely have to get at least one player out of this logjam. It would be terrible to go into the season with this many unhappy vets. And if you have Milledge and Dukes on tyhe team, you have to play them. I looked up every N.L. team recently to see how many at bats you can get from fourth and fifth outfielders. A good No. 4 has some decent value __probably about 300 ABs. Like Chad Tracy, Reed Johnson, Luis Gonzalez, D Ersta, Gabe Kapley, ndy Chavez, Geoff Jenkins, Scott Hairston (17 HR), Chris Duncan last season for various teams. So, even if the OF is Dunn, Dukes, Milledge and Willingham, you still probably get sufficient playing time for Willingham. A No. 5 outfielder is a total waste. Get anything you can, even if you have to eat a contract.

Remember, they'd really like to give Dunn a chance over the next two years to prove he can be a decent 1st baseman. So, my guess, and, man,that's all it is right now, is that they start the season with Nick at 1st, but keep trying to move him all season right up to the trading deadline __and that they'll get it done at some point. And that, by Opening Day, one OF will definitely be gone. You'd think it wouldbe Kearns. But Acta loves him, he's friends with Dunn. Yes, it's quite a puzzle.

The new brain trust _Rizzo-Kasten-Acta__ gets to show its thinking rightaway.

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Fairfax, Va.: Boz:

Does Hanrahan have the stuff to be the Nats closer? And how many opportunites for a save do you see him getting this year? (I miss the Chief, and even Rauch.)

Tom Boswell: Hanrahan looked like an adequate closer late last year and may develop a bit more from his exposure to the WBC. That may help him grow up, even if its in the 6th inning. Great closers are hard to find. Passable ones aen't so tough. Part of "Money Ball" was the stat insight that you could replace a closer more easily than almost any supposedly valuable commodity. That's part of the reason the Nats were willing to part with Rauch and, in a sense, ended up with Olsen and Willingham for him after a trade in between. Much harder to find a potential southpaw starter (Olsen) than another closer.

Hanarhan is really a good guy and will help improve a bullpen chemistry that I've been told my Nats went downhill somewhat last year. Rauch and Ayal in their own worlds. There's more life out there now. But is there enough talent? Hinkley has looked terrible as the situational lefty. Ledezma has had three decent outtings in Fla. You may see bergmann in the penall year, too.

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New York, N.Y.: Tom -- New York Nats Fan...D.C. person in exile. Love your columns(don't always agree, but love 'em anyhow)

I like the Nats for 3rd this year, as I think our pitching is going to surprise a lot of naysayers. I think our offense is much better than either the Braves or Marlins. I also think that the Phils and Mets pitching (Maine hasn't had it since last season, and has flopped this spring) are basically two-starter staffs. I love the Nats, but I really think they can improve 20-30 games. Your thoughts?

Tom Boswell: This is the right time of year for that kind of thinking! Twenty games is a HUGE improvement. I once went back for a few decades to see how often it happens. If memory serves, it's usually only one team a year, or many slightly more, on average that has a +20. So, that's asking a lot.

But the Nats look much better. I'll be very surprised if they don't win 70 (+11 wins and I wouldn't be surprised by 75-87, which wuld be a very big jump.

Jordan Zimmermann __8 1/3-4-0-0-2-10__ looked extremely good when I saw him. Just as important, especially long term, is the drafting and signing of S Strasburg. An ESPN story quoted a scout as saying he was throwing 99-to-102 and was the best pitching prospect since... Oh, it was so exaggerated I won't repeat it.(Remember Ben McDonald, the next Walter Johnson?) But Strasburg does, apparently top 100 and has a slider in the low 90's. Goggle his 23K game last year __the U-Tube video shows EVERY STRIKE he threw in the game. His stuff that day was amazing. What knocked me out was that, of the 69 strikes in the vdeo, I tyhink there were only one or two FOUL BALLS. He was untouchable. And San Diego State plays in a decent league.

If Straburg and Zimmermann are in the 2010 starting rotation, THEN you're talking about a team that should make a runat .500 or better.Butwill 'mann progress that well and will Strasburg get signed (Boras client)?

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Strasburg & Crowville: Hello way out there Tom! A friend in San Diego has witnessed Strasburg twice this season "16 Ks in 6 2/3," "batters missing by two feet", "hit 102 on the gun" among many other comments. If the Nats couldn't sign Crow, why should we get excited about SS? What is wrong with Detwiler? Thanx!

Tom Boswell: Yes, I'm hearing the same things about Strasburg. And 18 K's in another game.

The nats seem (finally) to have figured out that they have to spend money to field an MLB team. The $180-M-plus bid for Teixeira (another Boras client) was VERY encouraging because it shows how high they will go for absolutely top-drawer talent. The whole Teixeira Show was largely about Starsburg/Boras and establishing a connection with Boras. The Nats helped him get his big money for Teixeira (though they sincerely wanted to stumble into a miracle signing).

The Crow fiasco, which I'm STILL digging on, was a huge smack in the face. If the Nats go as hard after Strasburg as they did for teixeira __and they will, I'm almost certain_then they'll get him since No. 1 draft picks (even the best) command so much less than proven fee agents.

detwiler may be Bowden's biggest bust if he doesn't improve. In 3IP in Fla (before being sent down) he gave up seven walks, with zero strikeouts, in three innings. Noneof his stuff looked like a No. 1 draft pick to me. A lazy curveball, a 91 m.p.h. fastball that wasn't well located and often ended up waist high. They "worked on" his mechanics. Well, to me, he doesn't look as promising now as he did in his 1IP in September for the Nats the year they drafted him. So far, a maor disappointment. When you talk a college pitcher that high (No. 6 overall), he's supposed to be in your MLB rotation by now.

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Arlington, Va.: In your mind, in drafting players, is it more difficult for scouts to evaluate pitchers or hitters or is it pretty much equal? I have the impression that it is more difficult to predict pitching performance. The Nats have made it clear they see drafting pitchers as the cornerstone of THE PLAN. But for every Jordan Zimmermann their seems to be a Detwiler.

Tom Boswell: Great question. Pitching is MUCH harder to project, IMO. Hitters can hit. Though the metal bat in college can be misleading. The world is full of guys who throw in the 90's. hich ones have, or can learn, superior command? Which will stay health? Which have the mental toughness to overcome the inevitable batterings by MLB hiters? You can have great stuff and still spend years as a sub-.500 MLB pitcher.

That IS why Kasten has always been so big on drafting pitchers. I never thought that Bowden had as good an eye for pitchers as he did hitters and didn't teach me much when we talked about pitchers.

Believe me, if you came up with a Zmmermann (in the 2nd round) for every Detwiler, then you would be WAY ahead of the game. It's more like 3, 4 or 5 "phenoms" in the minors for every one who really maes it and wins, say, 100 games. If you go to baseballreference.com and lok up the drafts since'65 BY ROUND, you'll see how much more productive the picks are for hitters in the first 10 rounds. The pitchers just kill you. But you have to draft plenty of them anyway. There's no choice. Who's going to trade 'em to you! Beleive me,the nats aren't going to get any prime young arms for Nick Johnson or Kearns. They'll be lucky to get a future (or present) middle relier.

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Re: Ben McDonald: Boz, you were there, tell me if this McDonald story is true. After all of the scouting and hype, he's drafted and reports to Baltimore to sign, meet the media and work out in Memorial Stadium. While he's throwing, Frank Robinson's watching and after about five minutes, Frank says, "He's tipping his pitches." The beginning of the end of the Ben McDonald hype. True?

Tom Boswell: I was there through all of that period. Frank may have spotted such a thing, though I never heard of it, but nobody's career has even been ended by tipping pitches (that I know of). That is FIXABLE.

I remember ig ben's first MLB start __I think 33 of his first 35 pitches were strikes. He really did look likehe'd win 200 games. But almost all excellent pitchesare both smart and emotionally resilient. ben wasn't either. just an average guy (who wrestled aligators) who had trouble holding his confidence together when it turned out he was merely good, not great. Fun guy, frustrating pitcher. But the day he arrived, he threw 96 on the black, pitch after pitch, and had a big curveball. !!!! That was his best day.

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Uh, Boz?: It's YouTube. I think UTube is something the Germans had back in '42...

Anyway, I can't believe how pleased I was that the Nats signed Kip Wells. Not that I think he's going to be good (I'm not even sure he'll make the freaking team) but it's the kind of low-budget, smart move they need to make. Now how do they get a competent (not great or even really good, just competent) starting pitcher before Opening Day?

washingtonpost.com: YouTube - Stephen Strasburg 23-strikeout game

Tom Boswell: I can't spell anything, never have been able to. Considering all the rock videos I watch on YouTube, yu'd think I could spell it. Is there any concert in the last 50 years that isn't on YouTube?

Signing Kip Wells can't be bad. But when I saw the headline __Nats Sign Wells__ I thought, "Oh, may God, do I have to cover David Wells AGAIN." I was going to tell a Wels anecdote, then realized that I don't know a single one that I can write, even on a chat. Lets just say he was not agood influence on other pitchers, especially young ones.

Here's the Strasburg link. Willsomebody count the foul balls!

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South Riding, Va.: How concerned should we be on the relief pitchers? As often as Manny goes to bullpen...I'm concerned? Any help available?

Tom Boswell: The bullpen has the potential, right now, to range from barely adequate (if there is a miracle) to absolutely AWFUL. Colome has been decent. Rivera is what he is. If Hanrahan gets hurt, who is your closer??? Hinkley and Mock, both of whom were in the plans, haven't been good. It's early. But not too early to worry about THIS bullpen.

I've lost trackof which free agent relievers are still available. Lefty Joe Beimel still out there? If any team could use one more signing it's the Nats. They have a chance to regain quite a bit of goodwill. A truly bad bullpen couldprevent that. Manny in Viera: "Nothing takes the heart out of your team like blowing leads."

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Arlington, Va.: Tom: I am reading the "Great Book of Washington, D.C. Sports Lists" and in it there are several lists that you contributed. Somewhere in there they mention that you have been working at the Post since 1969. Is that true? What did you do for them 40 years ago?

Tom Boswell: In '69, I fetched coffee, answered phones, took dictation, etc., on the 5:30-to-2 a.m. ("lobster") shift three daysa week. (If I was lucky.) the title: part-time copy boy. In March '70, I became a fulltime copybopy__$90/week! I rode a bike to work to save money! I covered the same high school football game six years in a row __Deatha-St. John's. Back then, you started at the bottom of the bottom.

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Ottawa Canada: Marty York, who is Canada's Greatest Sportswriter, (ask him if you don't believe me) ran an item a couple of weeks back saying that it's almost certain that Stan Kasten is going to be the new president of the Toronto Blue Jays when the season starts. Has anyone in DC heard this rumor or is this yet another one of Marty's mental mirages?

Tom Boswell: Stan to Toronto was a good rumor LAST YEAR. Kasten's kids, I'm told, teased him, "Dad, it's too cold in Toronto."

It's conceivable (I'll believe it when I see it) that Kasten will now __post-Bowden__ be given the level of imput that he should have had from Day 1.

I was at a Wizard gamelast night and hearing Stan rumors. They are always going to be out there. His track record is too good in too many sport for any team, including NFL teams, not to find out if he's inerested.

Right now, he's not interested.

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Arlington, Va.: I went to a SABR Hot Stove League discussion in Arlington last night and was surprised at the overwhelming sentiment that the Nationals will be a much better team now that Bowden has stepped down. These are knowledgeable, passionate fans and some were almost gleeful about this prospect. From your columns, I realize you have a more nuanced view; but, in this view, just having someone who focuses on character as well as baseball skills should be a major plus. A happier, more talented team. Can 4th place be in sight?

Tom Boswell: Interesting. The Nats are a hot pick with stat folks. It's also an easy piuck because "normal health," whatever that is, should obviously be worth 5-to-10 wins. The Nats got 1,300 less at bats from their starting lineup than the Phils last year. Dunn, Olsen and Willingham all add value. And subtracting Bowden, though he didn't do a bad X-and-O jobon trades, etc., will probably be addition-by-subtraction in the front office. Rizzo's hair is on fire every day to prove he's the man for the job. He's very likeable, knowledgeable __though not slick (perhaps a plus).

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Loved the column yesterday about the excitement and tension involved in the WBC. Interesting to see professional athletes so revved about playing their sport and their home country's honor.

Is there ANY , even REMOTE chance that MLB would adopt the same format for the major league playoffs? How cool would that be !

washingtonpost.com: Mad About The WBC

Tom Boswell: No, the WBC format is too prone to flukes __like two wins by the Dutch and the Dominican is OUT.

Still, the WBC is a ball. The U.S. really blew a good chance by losing to Venezuela. With a win, the U.S. would have played the Netherlands in the first game of the next round which, much as I'm rooting for the Dutch, looks like a "bye." Instead, start right off with Puerto Rico with Beltran, Delgado, etc.

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Re: McDonald: Let's not let the Orioles get off the hook for McDonald's career, Boz. I don't think even the greatest of prospects should head almost straight to the majors (something the Nats should be careful about when they draft Strasburg). The minors is for refining your pitches and learning to handle situations when you actually have to deal with guys getting on base and how you adjust your pitching accordingly.

Tom Boswell: Good points. And perhaps good reasons to let Jordan Zimmermann polish his skills some more in the minors. Just because he's already better than what you've got doesn't mean he isn't worth protecting.

Remember, a couple of years ago, it looked like Patterson, Hilland Cordero would all be part of the Nats future now. In various ways, I'm not sure that all of them weren't pressure to pitch hurt, pitch too much, come back from injury toosoon, because the franchise was trying to gain some credibility on the cheap. That's hard to prove and probably, in some sense, not fair. But I can't tell you the times, with all three of them, that I said to myself in '07, "Where's the rush? Why the pressure? Don't you understand that these are almost the only three top quality arms in the oranization right now?" Okay, that's an easy, cheap second guess. Still, the way I feel.

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Reston: If the Orioles played in the NL East, do you think they could be competitive in 2010 or 2011?

Tom Boswell: A shame, for the Orioles, that we won't find out. It sure is easier to play in the JV League.

The NL East is a fine home __tough enough to be respectable and entertaining, but not like the A.L.East __"Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here."

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Tom,

Hoping you would comment on the ticket raffle for the Nats/Red Sox game? Does this help or hinder filling the seats? Can each club determine how they sell tickets, or are there some MLB guidelines? The Orioles charge premium prices for Red Sox and other big market teams. I understand taking advantage of hosting a wildly popular team, but it's a bit sad that DC can't just put out a better product. Thanks

Tom Boswell: Those games are going to be sellouts, no matter what you do, because there are 100,000 Red Sox fans in New England that I could sell those tickets to next week!

Seriously, I may have to give my Red Sox tickets __from my mini-mini-plan in my new adopted group__ to a friend (great guy) at my father-in-law's country club!

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Reston, Va.: Bos in your opinion where will the daily reader go for local sports news after newspapers die? Will we be able to get the coverage we're now afforded? I've read enough blogs to know that I can't trust them the way I trust hard newspaper journalism. I know there's been lots of talk lately on the subject of newspaper's online presence, news stand viability etc and so on. I even heard one caller on a sports radio show say "newspapers are only making more trash and giving us yesterdays news", got to love this generation, eh...

Tom Boswell: We're trying, we're trying! Just this week, the sports deartment has begun the switch to all-Internet time. Every story/column will have a washingtonpost.com deadline, rather than a newsprint deadline. You may have noticed that plenty of my columns are available on line at 2 p.m., then though they are in the paper the next morning. We realize that we have enormous readership on the Internet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-through-Friday and we have to cultivate that 21st century readership. Hey, that's why I'm chatting ritght now!

I think it's fun __especially for sports writers. We've all written on deadline all our lives. What's the difference between htting an 11a.m. or 1 p.m. deadline, rather than an 11p.m. or 1 a.m. deadline at nighty after a World Series game? There isn't any. Except that, in MANY cases, what you writye is 12 or 18 hours more timely.

This is what we should be doing __meeting readers needs. I'm looking frward to lots of Nats blogging on the Nats Journal this year. But the logistics of transitioninbg from print to on-line is huge. Not enough new-world hands to do all the work. For example, it's only in the last week or so that I've been physically add to post on Nats Journal.

Wish us luck. I hope that you'll be reading all of us __in the paper, but on the Internet more and more, for many years.

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Not recovering: I've been a Cubs fan for 25 years, though I'm not from Chicago. I was so disgusted with their playoff "performance" last season that I haven't followed a single move they have or haven't made in the offseason. I'm clueless to the current state of the Cubs. (This after listening to or watching all but 7 games last season via XM and the Internet). I thought this would pass, but even now, a few weeks before opening day, I wouldn't shed a tear of they disbanded or were all sent on the next shuttle to the space station. Top to bottom, I can't stand them. I've thought about picking another team, but (a) that just seems wrong, and (b) the idea of watching any baseball does nothing for me. This hyped-up no-good bunch of century-long losers has possibly ruined my lifelong love of this game! What should I do? By the way, I'm 100% serious.

Tom Boswell: I'm writing a column for Saturday on a subject akin to what you're talking about. The process of being a lifetime fan really is arduous. Forgive people from the Washington area for not being as sympathetic as we should be after waiting 33 years just to have a team in our town to drive us crazy!

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Washington, D.C.: Why don't they schedule the baseball draft earlier to allow some of the kids a chance to play in some spring training games?

For anyone who wants to read more about Strasburg, Buster Olney wrote a great article on him and also had something today about Rizzo. Might me worth your while to check out.

washingtonpost.com: Buster Olney: Is Stephen Strasburg the best prospect ever?

Tom Boswell: Yes, I saw this piece and enjoyed it.

I hope the scout isn't the same one who told Buster in March two years ago that the Nats might "lose 130 games." Although that scout quote certainly helped make 73-89 seem like an accomplishment.

Ironically, the Nats were trying to lose 105 games in '07 to get the No. 1 overall pick. (Bowden, among others, would say it.) They "blew it." Only got No. 9 overall. Then, when they were trying to get near .500 in a new ballpark last year, they lst 102 and got the No. 1 overall __and maybe Strasburg!

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NatsNut: mjames0 just asked this on Nats Journal and I'm curious what you think. Of all those outfielders you just argued about, why in the heck is MILLEDGE being talked about like he's a lock? And don't tell me he led the team in HRs last year. He hit 14!!!

washingtonpost.com: Off To Disney -- And The Lineup - Nationals Journal

Tom Boswell: Until the Nats are confident that Dukes can be depended upon off the field, and that may take at least another full year, they don't want to put him in CF. So, that only leaves Milledge. But I have to admit that, when I look at the Nats, the OF who is definitely tradeable __talented, cheap, well-known__ it is Milledge.

Dunn has played RF for Davey in the WBC. If you want an NFL-sized Nats lineup, trade Milledge, use Kearns off the bench and go with Guzman, Johnson, Z'man, Dunn (RF), Dukes (CF), Willingham (LF), Flores and Belliard.

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Section 222: Boz, considering the big shocker of Netherlands defeating the Dominican Republic's team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, have you replaced your Japan cap from the last WBC with a Netherlands hat? Or started wearing all-orange clothing around the Post's newsroom?

Tom Boswell: Where do I get a Netherlands hat!?

As Jim Kaat said after the second upset of the Dominican, "Tonight, you ain't much if you ain't Dutch."

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Joe Shlabotnik: One of my favorite Peanuts characters growing up was Joe Shlabotnik, the worst player in baseball (lifetime batting average .004), who kept getting sent down to the minors. Charlie Brown was always trying to get his baseball card; in one strip he spends five dollars on 500 penny packs (those days are gone) without getting a single Shlabotnik. Lucy then buys a single pack and to Charlie's dismay gets the lone Shlabotnik. Charlie tries desperately to trade for the card, offering up Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, but Lucy refuses because she thinks "he's kinda cute". In the final panel Lucy throws the card in the trash because "he wasn't as cute as she thought he was". Do you know if Joe Shlabotnik was based on an actual player?

Tom Boswell: Nice memory.

But no such player.

(I just checked.)

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Plainfield, Vt.: Hey, Bos... displaced Orioles and Phillies fan living on the northern fringes of Red Sox nation, God help me.

So... Brian Roberts and teammates think that Pedro would look good in an Orioles uniform, even if Andy McPhail says it's not going to happen.

I keep thinking of two things: first, how everyone keeps saying "he's not the same Pedro as he used to be, but he still knows how to pitch," and second, how that echoes what people often say about Jamie Moyer.

This may sound kind of like a bass-ackwards thing to say, but could Pedro be the next Jamie Moyer?

If you were the Orioles, would you sign him? What are the upsides and downsides? I mean, this team needs pitching.

Tom Boswell: Pedro could teach a lot of things to a yuoung staff. I assume that he's so proud that he would only want to pitch for a contender or a glamorous franchise. I can't see him being an Oriole or Nat.

But I'd certainly welcome him in Washington. Bet Acta would, too. I assume they had a good relationship with the Mets, though I don't know.

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McLean, Va..: As a fan who grew up with the Orioles in this area and is still a fan I am mystified as to why the Nationals would charge full price to the exhibition game on April 4. Don't they understand this is a chance for them to possibly win over some new fans? Why would any sane person pay full price for an exhibition game in this economy? Are the Lerner's this clueless and out of touch?

Tom Boswell: Hmmmm, something else to look into. Penny wise...?

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Reston: Boz, the stories about Ben McDonald led me to think of this question. If you were asked to name one player who you were sure was going to be an absolute superstar but never got there, who would you name? And what kept that player from reaching the heights? Thanks.

Tom Boswell: Mark Fidrych__The Bird. I just saw him beat the Yankees in an old game on the new MLB station. He had GREAT stuff (killer sinker, sharp late slider) and amazing command. Hurt his arm. A fluke, I seem to remember. Could have been a '70's-'80's Dizzy Dean for Detroit.

Thanks for all the questions. See everybody next week.

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