What got me while sitting on the base of the George Preston Marshall statue in front of RFK Stadium on Tuesday night was the number of people going into the ballpark from the Stadium/Armory Metro station wearing red baseball caps with the scripted "W" on the front.
The 44-year-old stadium has been home to D.C. United, defending MLS champions, for nine years and was, of course, home to the Washington Redskins until 1997. But it was built with baseball in mind and has the comfortable feeling of an old house that never should have been abandoned.
My mentor, the late Shirley Povich, whose work in The Washington Post from 1923 until his death in 1998 I helped assemble into a recently published book, would say over and over since the Senators left town for Texas in 1971 that when it came to baseball he always felt like an "outsider with his nose pressed against the window."
"If you're not in the major leagues, you're not a major league city," he would say, disdainful of the Baltimore Orioles being considered his home team and the baseball pooh-bahs who repeatedly ignored Washington's pleas for a team.
Anyone who had a friend or relative no longer with us, who shared Povich's belief that this town was wronged for so many years, might have thought about that person this week. I did. Especially Thursday night when the Nats, after collapsing in the top of the eighth, scored five runs in the bottom of that inning for an 8-6 victory.
The Washington Nationals, limping home after a 2-7 road trip, opened a four-game homestand against the perennial division champion Atlanta Braves, needing to make a stand to stay in the pennant race despite nine players on the disabled list. It's just one homestand in a long season; but maybe there's more on the line now because people here are beginning to get hooked. No need to recount the results, other than to report that the Nats took three out of four from the Braves -- each game more exciting than the last before crowds of 39,705, 29,512, 28,280 and 29,225 (only three of the 11 major league cities hosting games on Thursday drew more fans than Washington). The come-from-behind 8-6 Nats victory that night in a stadium that literally shook prompted some of us to ask, "Why was Washington denied this for 34 years?"
That said, there are nine bidders -- including billionaire George Soros, who just joined the Jonathan Ledecky group, and former secretary of state Colin L. Powell in the Malek-Zients cabal -- set to spend up to $400 million to buy the Nats from MLB, with several ownership groups, I'm told, now recruiting "Deep Throatmeister" W. Mark Felt for its celebrity lineup.
"We need to improve our walk-up business," said Nats President Tony Tavares, running the team ably for the owners. "Stadium conditions continue to get better, although fixing the food service is very tough to do because RFK is so outdated. And we've just started to market the team, our biggest problem being the misnomer that all the good seats are gone." The team's average attendance of about 30,000 a game should increase once school ends.
Fight Night Approaches
Even though my barber, Demetris Spanou, is boycotting the fight ("Do I really want to spend that kind of money to see Mike Tyson?"), I cannot contain my excitement for Saturday night's boxing event at MCI Center, featuring Tyson against Kevin McBride, Laila Ali against Erin Toughill and welterweights Sharmba Mitchell against Chris Smith. I'll be there with Feinstein, whose next book, "Tyson and Me: The Men, The Myths" will be in stores Monday.
Saturday night's fights spark memories of some great bouts and fighters who have passed through this area over the years, including Sugar Ray Leonard, Joe Louis (he knocked out Buddy Baer in 1941), Muhammad Ali, Riddick Bowe's title defense at RFK, light heavyweight champ Bob Foster, Holly Mims, Johnny Gant, George Abrams and a favorite of mine, Simon Brown.
"It's a good fight town," said Abe Pollin, who owns MCI Center and was at the Louis-Baer fight. "That was a great event."
Added Rock Newman, in town to help the promotion: "For a fight to be successful here, it has to be more than just a boxing match. That's what we have this week with Mike Tyson. Everyone wants to be seen." That includes LaVar, if not Demetris.
Touching the Bases
* Booz Allen Classic this week at Congressional, my favorite place to watch a golf tournament. Everyone is here, except Tiger. Watching these guys up close Tuesday and Wednesday -- they get serious on Thursday -- is a treat. And who doesn't love former University of Maryland golf coach Fred Funk, winner of this year's Players Championship?
* NHL owners and players appear to be getting closer to reaching an agreement on a new deal that would save the 2005-06 season. With last year's No. 1 draft pick, Alexander Ovechkin, still Caps property, could Washington be so fortunate as to land the No. 1 pick, likely Sidney Crosby from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, this year? "We'll have some form of a lottery [based on team performance over the past three years] once we have a CBA [collective bargaining agreement]," Caps GM George McPhee said.
* Go figure? Has absentee Redskins safety Sean Taylor been skipping offseason practices because he knew the team might have been involved in some kind of NFL rules violations in conducting offseason workouts (14 is the limit) that might have been too physical? The "voluntary" drills are supposed to be run without the players in pads and with no contact, live tackling, blocking, pass-rushing or bump-and-running. Those restrictions would seem to leave coaches with nothing to do but direct an aerobics class and prepare the players for next year's national spelling bee.
The practices were seen by union and league officials on the team's Web site that normally features eBay-like highlights of Rod Gardner in hopes of some team bidding, as well as a listing of club phone numbers so that Taylor might one day call in and reveal his whereabouts.
* Farewell: To good guy George Mikan, who passed away Wednesday, from kidney failure after a long battle with diabetes. He was 80. The 6-foot-10 Mikan was a superstar for the Minneapolis Lakers and the sport's first dominant big man. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame who in 1996 was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, Mikan played in the NBA from 1948 to 1956, averaging 22.6 points, winning five NBA championships and six scoring titles. In 1950, he was the highest paid player in the league, earning $25,000.
How good was he? "Among the 10 best of all time," said fellow Hall of Famer Red Auerbach.
Have a question or comment? Reach me at Talkback@washpost.com.