I made the mistake of driving past RFK Stadium the other day. Don't ever do that in August if you're a baseball fan. You won't feel like smiling for quite a while.
Outside the main gate, where once I stood on line all night for tickets to an All-Star Game, grass grows. Through the sidewalk.
Near the third-base-side entrance, where vendors once hawked buttons with Ted Williams' face on them, a motorcycle policeman sits resting on a hazy, hot afternoon. He's watching the clouds form. There are no people anywhere in view.
Inside, in a couple of weeks, the joint will be rocking and rolling with Redskins. But on this day, when Red or White Sox might once have been here for a doubleheader, RFK is home only to pigeons -- and to the echo of a visitor's footsteps.
It's 11 Augusts since anyone knocked the dirt out of his spikes at the oval on East Capitol Street.
t's about five Augusts since anyone seriously suggested -- or tried to arrange for -- baseball's return to Washington.
This August came the surest sign that our wounds are no longer open. As he gave the scores one night, Channel 9 sportscaster Frank Herzog referred to "our" Baltimore Orioles. Gordon Peterson didn't even say "Ouch."
Bringing baseball back to Washington is still a matter of dollars, not of politics. Once some businessman realizes that we have the seventh largest metropolitan area in the country, and that $6 for a seat won't make many of us flinch, a team will reappear at RFK. The same demographics that brought us Bloomingdale's will bring back the hit-and-run.
And if some entrepreneur is worried that kids won't support his team, I refer him to an excellent point made by Teri Peck, a registered nurse who lives in Alexandria.
Teri's credentials as a Washington baseball nut are in perfect order. "I sublimated my desire to be a major league ballplayer by listening to every Washington Senators' game possible, even those from the West Coast," she writes. "This required hiding my transistor radio under my pillow and feigning sleep for my unsuspecting parents!
"I was listening when Reno Bertoia fouled off 17 straight pitches, and I was happily watching when Camilo Pascual won his own game with a grand-slam home run against the hated Yankees. I cried myself sick when Calvin Griffith stole our team . . . "
Teri's theory is that young Washingtonians would flock to watch professional baseball because it teaches the value of strategy, not violence, to girls as well as boys. Baseball demonstrates "cooperation and teamwork that football could never approach," Teri says.
Evidence? Look at the surging interest in soccer among young people in the area.
Like baseball, soccer rewards subtlety and strategy. Like baseball, it is "a game of inches" that puts a premium on executing the fundamentals properly. And like baseball, it is easy to play and understand. No obscure rules about holding penalties or offensive fouls.
So add it up: native Washingtonians like Teri Peck on the one hand, dying for a baseball team to root for, and kids like our soccer players on the other hand, a sure bet to become converts to the Grand Old Game. Both age groups with money to spend. A city without a competing team or sport between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Seems like a compelling case. Until you look at the pigeon flapping his wings near where second base used to be.