Do you remember those heady days of June, when RFK Stadium was shaking at its foundation from joyous fans jumping up and down watching the first-place Washington Nationals winning another game? That would be June 2005, not June 1924.
But things change quickly around here and what was so sunny and promising about baseball in Washington six months ago has become a generally unpleasant roller coaster ride that has left baseball fans here asking themselves, "What happened?"
Here's what went wrong: The D.C. Council, which almost cost the city a baseball team a year ago, seemed to be back to its old tricks, failing for months to approve a lease for a $535 million stadium in Southeast that it had previously agreed to. Negotiations between Major League Baseball and city officials Friday seem to indicate an agreement has been reached to the satisfaction of the parties. But we've been down this road before and until the papers are signed and council chairman Linda Cropp and her peeps say "it's done," it's not done. Besides, who can trust this cast of characters?
By failing for months to close a deal, opportunistic politicians provided MLB a reason to not sell the team (for $450 million) and blocked the franchise from being competitive in free agent bidding or moving ahead in making this a viable franchise by say, getting a few more games on television or getting a decent radio signal.
So instead of making reasonable attempts to grow the team, the political bickering has left fans bidding farewell to veteran pitchers Esteban Loaiza, who jumped to the Oakland Athletics for a three-year deal worth $21.375 million, and Hector Carrasco, who got $6.1 million over two years from the Los Angeles Angels, leaving general-manager-for-today Jim Bowden to ponder bringing down Ron Darling from the TV booth.
Who knows if Frank Robinson will return as manager or if my man, Cristian Guzman, has been working on his swing in the offseason? I don't know anything, except I see the New York Mets have matched the 1927 Yankees in talent this offseason. Not a single local pol has a clue how much the addition of Billy Wagner to the bullpen at Shea changes the balance of power in the National League East. Linda Cropp: Wake up.
Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, who might have helped had he been more involved with chief negotiator Jerry Reinsdorf over the past two months selling the deal, has always had concerns about whether Mayor Anthony Williams could close on the new waterfront ballpark. The team and stadium in a revitalized neighborhood, if a deal gets done, would be a major legacy for the mayor. Instead, Williams is finishing his run getting lit up by the likes of Schwartz, Fenty, Graham and Catania. Did he need that?
Reinsdorf, who was the key MLB figure in getting the Nats here in the first place, expressed reservations about Washington's future success at the gate in the RFK neighborhood despite the 2.7 million attendance this summer. He noted correctly that the first-year success of Colorado and the Florida Marlins was followed by major attendance declines when the novelty subsided. Right now, the only Nats offseason noise has come from WRC's Tom Sherwood outside council chambers and an increase in the price of some tickets.
To offset rising stadium costs, the possibility of building the ballpark near RFK Stadium would not have made residents of that neighborhood jump for joy. Especially when these folks hear there's a buzz in town about the Redskins some day wanting to build a 100,000-seat football stadium there and turning FedEx Field in Landover into a housing development (boozed fans tailgating in parking lots wouldn't even notice).
Nats fans need something positive to happen. Maybe they'll get some good news soon, starting with an agreement on a new baseball stadium in Southeast. And maybe, just maybe, the Nationals will get an owner.
Three Games in Town
Travis Garrison, Maryland's very good 6-foot-8 senior forward from Suitland who went to DeMatha, has been playing summer basketball for years with George Washington's guys. On Monday, Garrison and the No. 23 Terrapins play the 19th-ranked Colonials at MCI Center in the nightcap of the BB&T Classic tripleheader that begins at 4:30 with Howard meeting Navy, followed by George Mason against American. "It's about who owns the city," said Garrison, who gets the importance and fun of playing against local teams. "They beat us last year; we'd love to turn things around on them Monday night."
The tournament, which benefits the Children's Charities Foundation, was for 10 years a two-day affair involving four teams, including the Terps and Colonials, and usually two teams from outside the area. But athletic directors at many of the bigger-name schools were reluctant to give up two dates (for financial reasons) and the tournament is now a one-day event, with Notre Dame lined up for 2006.
Maryland Coach Gary Williams has always supported the event, noting, "it's for a worthwhile charity and good for the game locally."
Williams and GW's Karl Hobbs have strong teams, with Maryland looking especially impressive coming off its 83-66 victory over Minnesota at Comcast Center Wednesday in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge game. "We've got a potentially good team that's growing," Williams said. "I like the way our guys treat each other."
I asked Williams what was the strength of his team. "Depth," he said, adding this was his deepest team since the national championship squad of 2002.
Three and Out
Lots of long faces and hand-wringing over the Redskins the past three weeks, with painfully close defeats to Tampa Bay, Oakland and San Diego, leaving Coach Joe Gibbs's team, 5-6, a long shot to make the playoffs.
My friend at the gym, Veronica, said she now watches her favorite team for the first three quarters before turning off the television and doing something else.
"Three of the toughest losses I've ever been through," said Gibbs, who can't turn off the games. "Now we'll see what we're made of."
I'm glad to see Jimmy Farris, a 6-foot wide receiver and special teamer, get picked up last week by the Redskins and catch a pass against San Diego from Mark Brunell for 18 yards. Farris, 27, did not survive the final Redskins cut on Sept. 3, despite catching two touchdown passes against Baltimore in the preseason finale and being interviewed by "Sports Week."
Farris spent most of the last three months staying in shape and waiting by the telephone at home in Atlanta before Gibbs dialed. "Being on the field, hearing that crowd and soaking in the atmosphere. I just loved it," said Farris after the game on Sunday. He had to be helped off the field at one point Sunday when a Charger stepped on his leg. "It was nothing," he said with a gleam in his eye. "I'm here now, until they kick me out. Signed for the rest of the season. A Redskin."
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