And we don’t mean Sean Casey. Mayor Vincent C. Gray visited Nationals spring training over the weekend, attending their Grapefruit League opener against the Mets in Port St. Lucie and throwing out the first pitch before the home opener at Space Coast Stadium. “It’s a great way to support the team and send a message to the city that this is a team that should be supported,” Gray said, explaining his trip.
Gray expressed his intent to grow baseball within Washington, both in support of the major league team and at the grassroots level. So much of the Nationals’ fan base comes from Virginia, which Gray has no issue with, but he would like more Nationals fans come directly from their home city.
“I think it’s hugely important, just from a civic spirit perspective,” Gray said. “I want to see increasingly large numbers of people who actually live in the city support the team, too. We always want the regional support, because we are a regional team, too. But at the same time, you want the people who live in the city to feel like this a team that belongs to them. Beyond the civic spirit, there’s the idea of winning. And it’s good for the city’s economy as well.”
Earlier this spring, Nationals Principal Owner Mark Lerner said development around parts of Nationals Park, particularly on Half Street, had come more slowly than he had hoped. Gray said more is coming, including a movie theater, several eateries and more residential space.
“That’s one of the things we had hoped for in bringing the baseball team there,” Gray said. “I really earnestly feel the development has moved more quickly than it otherwise would. There probably would have been development down there in terms of the office buildings, because of the federal government that’s nearby. But I think the commercial development, the retail development, really has been precipitated and facilitated by the baseball team.”
The Lerners have not been shy about their hope to attract an all-star game. The slow pace of development around the stadium, Mark Lerner said, could be a reason they have yet to land the midsummer classic.
“I think it’s already a facility that should be able to attract the all-star game,” Gray said. “I don’t know what more we need to do, other than now have a track record for having a successful team. I think it’s obvious now there would be no difficulty in getting people to come out. I think we should be a prime candidate now.”
The Nationals and the city, at the moment, seem to have a strong working relationship. The Nationals have paid this year’s rent on time, according to one official. Since the Nationals moved to their new stadium, they have worked with the city to build a baseball academy. It will be opening this fall, Gray said, in Ward 7, near DuPont Park.
Gray hopes the facility can “rejuvenate” baseball in Washington. It will include three full fields and an academic center.
“It’ll keep a lot of kids involved who otherwise might be into mischief,” Gray said. “It’s in an area of the city where we have some challenging conditions, which is perfect for the young people who really need this most.”
FROM THE POST
Over the weekend, Boz summed up the status of Davey Johnson at 70.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
Vs. Mets in Port St. Lucie, 6:10 p.m. The rule about putting three regulars in every starting lineup is suspended because of the World Baseball Classic, which is a good thing for the Nats today. Their lineup:
1. Eury Perez, CF
2. Steve Lombardozzi, 2B
3. Corey Brown, RF
4. Tyler Moore, DH
5. Chris Marrero, 1B
6. Carlos Rivero, LF
7. Matt Skole, 3B
8. Chris Snyder, C
9. Zach Walters, SS
– Gio Gonzalez, SP
DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY