Wander into RFK Stadium any steamy August evening, find where home plate ought to be, close your eyes and think back to the future: you might hear the familiar sounds of bats cracking, vendors hawking and AM radios crackling with static.
Then again, you just might hear the sounds of sirens; after all, you are trespassing.
But by 1987, a dream deferred -- baseball returning to Washington -- finally might be a dream realized. And when the new Senators make a habit of turning 4-1 ninth-inning leads into 5-4 losses, you'll want to be there. Or at least you'll want to be listening at home.
Among local stations, there should be a scramble to determine the broadcast rights to a new team here. Here's a brief look at the main contenders:
*Radio: Competitors concede that WMAL-630, the station that revels in the Redskins every autumn, is the overwhelming favorite to land the Senators. The ABC-owned station has the money, the desire and the sports tradition. "You bet!" bellows Andy Ockershausen, WMAL's executive vice president and general manager, when asked if his station should be considered the front-runner.
WMAL, also home to Maryland football and basketball, would love to get the baseball contract and, perhaps, program its popular "SportsCall" show before and after games.
WMAL has shown considerable baseball interest in recent years. When it appeared the San Diego Padres might move here, Ockershausen moved WMAL into the picture. "We never got as far as dollars -- only a commitment to want to do business with them," he said. When it appeared the San Francisco Giants might move here, "We gave their guy a letter of commitment that we'd be willing to broadcast the games. We made a dollar commitment," Ockershausen said.
Behind WMAL, the other contenders are easy to spot: any large AM station would take a look at baseball. That brings us to WTOP-1500, which already does the Baltimore Orioles, as well as the Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals; WWDC-1260, which does Georgetown basketball and Notre Dame football, and WRC-980, which does Navy football.
WTOP, whose contract with the Orioles runs through the 1986 season, might be content to stick with the Baltimore team.
"We're very comfortable with the Orioles. We're pretty pleased to be the Orioles' station. It's basically a good product," said Holland Cooke, WTOP's program director and operations manager. "As for a team coming here, we would sure take a look at that. But it's been my observation that baseball on radio is a bigger act when the team is on the road.
"When your product is at the stadium (at home), people go to the game rather than listen to it on the air. That's why the Orioles work well for us. Even their home games are away games because it's still a trek for folks around here to get to Baltimore. From a radio standpoint, it's kind of like having a home team on the road all the time."
WWDC's program director, Bill Scanlon, said, "We have an interest in pursuing it . . . we wouldn't have any problem fitting it into our schedule." And WRC's program director, Ken Mellgren, said, "We would certainly consider it. We're keeping our minds open."
Footnote: WMAL's Ken Beatrice, host of "SportsCall," said he would be interested in doing the play-by-play if baseball returns to Washington and WMAL gets the radio contract. "I've had opportunities in the past to do play-by-play in other sports. But baseball is the only sport, I believe, in which I could do play-by-play," said Beatrice, whose WMAL contract runs another four years. "I'd at least be interested in talking about it. I don't know about the travel."
*Television: It's probably a two-horse race between the area's main independent stations: WTTG-TV-5, owned by Metromedia, and WDCA-TV-20, owned by Taft. Network affiliates are less likely to commit to a long baseball schedule because it can be disruptive when they have to preempt prime-time network programming.
Metromedia stations in Los Angeles and Chicago already carry Dodgers and White Sox games. "There are some sports we will do and some we won't do," said Bob O'Connor, WTTG's general manager. "Baseball is one we're interested in."
Channel 20, which carries the Orioles, Bullets and Capitals, is contracted to do Orioles games through 1987, "but there are always ways to change that," said Stephanie Campbell, WDCA's station manager.
"We would make every effort to take the local team," she said. "We would see it as critical for our position as the local sports station."
As for pay TV, it is unlikely but possible that a regional cable network challenging Home Team Sports could be formed, using a D.C. baseball team for the backbone of its programming. HTS, however, could discourage potential rivals by sewing up the baseball contract. And remember: Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who is actively seeking a baseball franchise here, is chairman of Group W cable, HTS' parent company.
August is one of those landmark, land-mine months, courtesy of the funky folks at NBC Sports.
On Sunday, Aug. 11, NBC's "SportsWorld" will present "The Great Communicators of Sports," a potentially fascinating look at history's best-known sportscasters and sportswriters.
But today, if you're not careful tiptoeing through the viewing field, you might step upon taped coverage of world mixed-pair body building on "SportsWorld" with the husband-and-wife commentating team of Bruce and Linda Jenner. Might just be a good weekend to keep that set turned off in order to get in better touch with your feelings . . .
Yesterday's AFC-NFC Hall of Fame Game between the New York Giants and the Houston Oilers on ABC marked the debut of Joe Namath as analyst.