As major league baseball embarks upon what might well be its last day until further notice, most owners and most players have made alternate plans for life without baseball.
Most of their benefactors are not so fortunate. The owners still will make money through other businesses. The player's portfolios will carry them through the summer drought. But for the fans, there is no substitute for this game. No matter how hard you wish and hope and pray. Four Mile Run Park Doesn't cut it as substitute for Memorial Stadium.
"I don't think either the players or owners really care about the fans," said Bruce Martin, one of several fans questioned before last night's double-header between the Alexandria Dukes and Peninsula Pilots was postponed due to wet grounds. "They're not doing much to prevent a strike, and in the end the fan who supports baseball will be the one who suffers."
Martin, 30, a computer executive from McLean, was attending his first Dukes game and his first professional game in five years. His last trip to a ball park had been to Memorial Stadium. At that time, his youngest daughter Wendy, who accompanied him to see the Dukes last night, hadn't been born. Nor had free agency.
"One or two might be worth what they're making," he said, "but once one guy who has a mediocre year gets a big free-agent contract, everybody thinks it's the way to go. I think players are vastly overpaid. There's no way Nolan Ryan's worth $1 million a year. But it's not their fault.
"Owners like (New York Yankees' George) Steinbreener want to be able to say that they have a champion team, so they'll buy it at any price. It's like a toy for them. The players aren't going to say they don't want more -- and they shouldn't and the owners aren't about to stop paying it. It's a vicious circle. At some point the owners may have to stop."
"With basketball and hockey ticket prices the way they are baseball is the last workingman's game," said Pete Perry, a United Nations worker from Georgetown. Perry, a Philadelphia Phillies phnatic, was at his first Dukes game this season to see how his club's Class A players were faring.
"But it might not be much longer. I'm afraid big money and free agency are going to drive ticket prices beyond the means of average people. The affluence of the players caused me to reflect on their ideas. But it's hard to determine who is right. Both have good points. The whole thing is all part of the inflationary spiral that affects everything else. It has to stop somewhere."
Not necessarily. Not if you're a dedicated baseball fan who will see any game, anywhere, any time, at any price.
"I have no problem with the free agent system as it is now," said Tim McDonald, 29, a Library of Congress employe.
McDonald, who lives in Friendship Heights, goes to see the Dukes once a week. He takes a bus an hour each way. On nice nights he walks part of the way back to the District. On Sundays he takes the train to Baltimore to catch the Orioles.
"I don't think the system has hurt either league, and it's probably helped both," he said. "The players might be a little overpaid, but that's probably the owner's fault. It's sort of hard to blame either side, although I think the owner's proposal to keep playing while the negotiations, continue was a good one. And maybe the players could compromise on compensation. But I'm only suggesting that to avoid a strike."
Good luck. The players rejected that proposal from the owners. Then the owners rejected the players' proposal to settle the other issues and establish a committee to study the compensation situation for two years. What's a serious fan to do?
"I understand both sides, but I think the owners are right on free agency," said Everet Starr of Alexandria. "When an owner loses a player like Pete Rose, he loses money on attendance because less people want to see the team. An established star like Rose should bring some type of compensation."
No way, counters Wes Draper of Silver Spring, who was wearing a Celtics shirt, a Bullets championship ring and professed to be a basketball fanatic. But his true passion was revealed by his confession that he flies to New York to see the Yankees and had planned to go to Boston for this weekend's Red Sox-Blue Jays series.
"No, they shouldn't get another player," the 21-year-old transportation worker argued. "There should be no problem. His contract is up, so he can go anywhere he wants. Why should his fromer team get anything in return?"
Because the owners say so. The players, of course, say the opposite So, from the fan's view, if the owners don't get their way, or the players theirs, then nobody plays.
"I thought a bargaining session was where you listed the astronomical things you want, the other side lists the mediocre things it will give you, and you meet somewhere in between," Martin said. "Nobody seems to be doing that."
"Of course a man wants every nickel he can get," said Alonzo Hines of Alexandria, a Dukes season-ticket holder who has missed one game in two years. "So let's play ball because we're all making money."
Or, because 12-year-old Thad Reeves of Springfield is going to be mighty disappointed that no one took the time to listen to him.
"I don't want the players to strike," he said, because I just want to see them play."