Friday, April 15, 2005

A Capital Improvement - Baseball's Back in D.C.

I was there to witness history last night.

Major League Baseball finally returned to Washington, D.C., after 34 years of waiting and wondering. The excitement and the energy from the fans helped propel the Washington Nationals to a 5-3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was incredible, to say the least.Not since the Washington Senators were shipped out to Texas and became the Rangers in 1971 has the Nation's Capital been home to a Major League team.

It was a matter of considerable consternation. Up until this year, Washington had the Redskins in the NFL, the Wizards and the Mystics in the NBA and WNBA, the Washington Capitals (if they ever play again) in the NHL and D.C. United of the MLS - but no baseball team.

The city has changed so much in the last 30-plus years that it was definitely time for this great city to have its own team to cheer for and watch, and last night, more than 46,000 were in attendance to see it for the first time at RFK Stadium.

The sellout crowd, including myself and my friend Bob, cheered loudly for each member of the Nationals team and coaching staff. We yelled and clapped for Washington's Mayor Anthony Williams, who led the charge to bring the Expos here. We booed even louder at D.C. Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp, who continuously tried to stall the deal.

We saw snipers on the upper parts of the stadium and more security than the average baseball fan has ever witnessed. We laughed when 75 percent of the stadium booed the heck out of President Bush and we were amazed at the new configurations of antiquated RFK Stadium. We were just two people in a sea of red, white and blue that gave a much deserved ovation for Hall of Famer and Nationals' manager Frank Robinson. It was a terrific night, and the best part is, it will happen 80 more times this summer.

And how can you top the opening act? Livan Hernandez and Vinny Castilla led the Nationals to a 5-3 win with their great pitching and clutch hitting. Livan took a 1-hitter into the 9th inning (the only hit didn't even make it out of the infield) and Castilla hit a double, triple that drove in two runs and then a hit a monster two-run home run. Just a single away from hitting for the cycle, but the D'Backs reliever drilled him in his fourth at bat, which led to more boos and a stare from Vinny.

The players looked and acted like they were finally home after several seasons in Montreal were they were the league's nomads, playing in many of their "home" games in Puerto Rico. They now have a place to call home and in a city that loves them whether they win or lose.

This summer will be my sixth since moving to the area and it is sure to be the best in Washington, D.C. - because baseball is finally home.


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