Far away from the hoopla surrounding the Super Bowl, there is another, gentler sound. It is distant now, the sound of major league baseball teams getting ready for spring training in Florida and, even farther away, in Arizona. As Opening Day approaches, the sound will come nearer, and grow sweetly louder, as teams report to their home stadiums and their joyful fans welcome them for another season.
But not in Washington. In this football-oriented town, we can't spend our summers watching our own baseball team. We watch the Baltimore Orioles, even if we are National League fans. We watch other cities' teams on cable. We buy the review magazines and read the Sports section of the paper, devouring every fact and opinion about players and teams we will never see in our town. In mid-season, we tune in local news hoping to see baseball highlights, and often are treated first to a lengthy report from Carlisle on what the Redskins are doing in training camp. And all the time, we hope for our own baseball team.
Remember how we packed RFK last April to watch the Mets and Phillies in an exhibition game? Remember how so many of us stayed, even when we were peppered with an assortment of snow, hail, sleet and rain? The game was called halfway through in deference to the players' health (after all, the next day was Opening Day), but I would have stayed through nine innings, in spite of frozen feet and soaked clothing. Why? Because I was afraid I would never see major league teams in RFK again.
So if Jack Kent Cooke wants a new stadium built by 1990 for football only, let him have it. Because then circumstances will force the issue and there will be only one logical thing to do with RFK Stadium: bring baseball back to it.
Those who don't see the need for a team try to pacify us: "You can always go up to Baltimore and watch the Orioles." And we do. We make the trek to Memorial Stadium and appreciate the fine American League teams that meet and play there. From family professionalism (Cal Ripken Sr. managing his sons), to batting giants in friendly competition for a title (Boggs and Mattingly), to aggressive, efficient energy (Bell and Barfield of the Blue Jays), the American League has many fine players and qualities.
But some of us grew up with the National League, and we have come to enjoy a different kind of game. National League teams play a fast-moving game, with elements of tag and swiftness akin to magic -- When did Vince Coleman steal third? I never took my eyes off him. -- mixed in with the basic hits and impressive homers shared by both leagues.
They tell us to go up to Philadelphia and watch the Phillies. Again, great advice -- unless you work during the week and don't enjoy fighting evening or weekend traffic. Or you are a child whose parents don't see any point in driving to Philadelphia to see a baseball game.
The major stumbling block, of course, is that the National League feels no need to expand and that no existing National League team wants to move here. Granting that expansion may be impractical at the moment, we can at least try to lure an existing team here by emphasizing our merits. RFK is not new, but it is beautiful. It has aged with grace, and in spite of the rowdy football crowds, its atmosphere has stayed as serene as its natural grass. We also have a safe, efficient Metrorail system that goes directly to the stadium, making evening games an attractive option for everyone. Finally, a team in the nation's capital should be able to gain not only national but also international attention.
And what about our children? Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith are just as much a part of our culture as the Air and Space Museum; they will become as much a part of our history as our presidents and monuments. Shouldn't a child in the nation's capital be able to grow up watching these heroes and future legends at work?
-- Patricia R. Ciaccio