Like Punxsutawney Phil, you see Washington Nationals owner Ted Lerner once a year: Opening Day.
“He a shy guy,” explained his daughter, Debra Lerner Cohen, who told us her dad wasn’t looking for attention when he bought the team in 2006. “He didn’t do it for the spotlight. He did it for the love of the game.”
Unlike, say, Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Lerner maintains a very low-profile at games. There are no reporters allowed in Lerners suite ever, no photos, no VIP guests/media types on display. Even a friendly invite to us from a family member Monday was quickly squashed by Nats staff because…well, because.
But a record 2012 season and a perfect spring day drew the very private billionaire from the owner’s box for the season opener against the Miami Marlins. About 30 minutes before the game, Lerner stepped onto the field and headed for the Nats dugout, where he shook hands and chatted with each of the players and coaches. Then he waved down his wife Annette, son Mark and daughters Debra and Marla, to pose for pictures. He even stood near home plate at the pre-game ceremony honoring the star performers of last season including Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper and General Manager Mike Rizzo, named Executive of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America.
So, yeah, Lerner was in an especially expansive mood.
“Opening Day is hope for another season that we’ll be successful,” he told us. “Hopefully, we’ll get to the playoffs.” Nervous? “No. Baseball bounces a funny way, and we hope for the best.”
In fact, the entire Nats first family was pretty pumped. “I never get nervous, I just get excited,” said Cohen. “And really, I’m excited for the fans.” Before the game, she walked through the stands, looking at all the people in red, especially the kids. “Once you have fans, you have fans for life. It’s a building experience, because we missed a generation in this city. Now the kids are coming and growing up with it. That’s the best part: These 10-year-old kids, when they’re 25, they’ll be bringing their families. That’s what it’s all about.”
The game was sold out; the stands filled with a few VIPs (Mayor Vincent Gray, George Will, Al Hunt) among the thousands who played hooky Monday. The team was greeting with lusty shouts and applause, but the loudest ovation was for Medal of Honor recipient Clint Romesha, who threw out the first pitch. Next loudest? Harper’s home run blast in the first inning, and then a second in the fourth.
What’s not to like? Nats are undefeated, beating Miami 2-0.
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