Rob Manfred unwrapped a box of official major league baseballs at the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy on Wednesday afternoon during the D.C. stop of his introductory tour as Major League Baseball’s new commissioner. A group of eager pre-teens from the academy swarmed around him, yielding far less space than their elders might to someone in Manfred’s position.
“This is my favorite part of the job,” he told them, unwrapping a ball before having it peeled out of his hands by an eager youngster who proceeded to read its inscription.
“Official Major League Baseball,” read a little boy in a white jersey with a red curly W on it. “Commissioner Robert D. May…Made…”
“Manfred,” baseball’s new commissioner corrected him as mentors and media laughed. Manfred’s name hasn’t been on that ball long, after all. Since he took over as commissioner Jan. 25, Manfred has been introducing himself again and again. On Wednesday’s visit to the academy in Southeast Washington, one young player asked Manfred for his favorite baseball team. Commissioners cannot have favorites, he told them — though he did admit to reporters later that while he had lived in D.C. before the Nationals arrived in 2005, he filled the baseball void with Orioles season tickets.
“I actually lived here in the era when there was no baseball in Washington. I think it’s a credit to [former] commissioner [Bud] Selig and to the Lerner family that they had the foresight to bring the national pastime back to D.C.,” Manfred said. “It’s really important for the sport. The Lerners have built this into a wonderful franchise, and it’s really important for the success of Major League Baseball.”
Manfred is a central figure in the ongoing dispute between the Nationals and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) over rights fees that an arbitration panel ruled the network owes the team. Questions about Manfred’s involvement with that panel have pulled him into the brambles, and he addressed the ongoing lawsuit, which will hear final arguments at trial May 18.
“I will say this much: I think in reasonably short order, there will be a resolution to MASN either by the litigation being done or some other mechanism,” Manfred said, declining to speak in more detail about the issue.
In addition to lauding the success of the Nationals in their first 10 years in D.C., Manfred praised the successful coexistence of the franchise and the Orioles.
“I think both teams have done a great job of being competitive and maintaining their fan base,” he said. “I think at the time the Nationals came here, we were pretty comfortable that the area had grown and developed so much since the Senators left that we felt it could be successful, and it turned out we were right about it.”
Both the Nationals and Orioles have shown interest in hosting the MLB All-Star Game, and Manfred said one doing so would not “be a disqualifying factor for the other” to do the same in closely following seasons. The next uncommitted all-star game is 2017; Cincinnati and San Diego are scheduled to host the next two.
Naturally given his surroundings, Manfred spoke most vehemently about the need to reinvigorate baseball’s hold on the minds of young would-be players across the country, particularly in urban areas such as D.C., where it seems to have lost its grip in recent years.
“One of the things I hope to accomplish during my time as commissioner is increase the number of kids who play our game and who are interested in our game,” said Manfred, whose short but fearless interrogators had long since been ushered away to do their homework, each holding a baseball bearing the name Robert D. Manfred Jr.