A Con­flu­ence of His­tory, Tra­di­tion and Base­ball

The Washington Post Sunday - - On The Air Sunday Morning - Ge­orge Solomon

O pen­ing Day in Wash­ing­ton goes back to 1871, when a team called the Olympic Base Ball Club of Wash­ing­ton played in a league called the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion. The Olympics be­came the Na­tion­als in 1872, and for the next 100 years base­ball teams rep­re­sent­ing Wash­ing­ton opened the base­ball sea­son in such leagues as the Amer­i­can League, Na­tional League, Ne­gro Na­tional League and oth­ers.

Pres­i­den­tial open­ers be­gan in 1910, when Pres­i­dent William Howard Taft threw out the first ball at Amer­i­can League Park (Florida and Trinidad streets NE). That was fol­lowed by first pitches by 10 ad­di­tional pres­i­dents at Grif­fith Sta­dium and RFK un­til the Sen­a­tors left for Texas af­ter the 1971 sea­son.

Richard Nixon was the last pres­i­dent to throw out a first pitch in Wash­ing­ton (1969) un­til Pres­i­dent Bush ended the drought by throw­ing out the first pitch of Ma­jor League Base­ball’s re­turn to Wash­ing­ton on April 14, 2005.

That brings us to to­mor­row’s Open­ing Day, the last at RFK Sta­dium with the new 41,000-seat sta­dium on the Ana­cos­tia wa­ter­front in South­east sched­uled to open next April. Pres­i­dent Bush won’t be on the mound be­cause of a sched­ul­ing con­flict, al­though the for­mer owner of the Texas Rangers has seen the Nats at RFK sev­eral times dur­ing the past two sea­sons.

“The pres­i­den­tial opener is a phe­nom­e­nal tra­di­tion we hope to re­vive next year,” said Na­tion­als Pres­i­dent Stan Kas­ten, who said the day will be marked by bands, the un­furl­ing of a huge Amer­i­can flag, fly­over by mil­i­tary jets and play­ers greet­ing fans at the gate.

“Pres­i­den­tial open­ers are part of our his­tory and show how im­por­tant the game has been,” Com­mis­sioner of Base­ball Bud Selig said. “Pres­i­den­tial open­ers have been a won­der­ful tra­di­tion that I hope con­tin­ues — with most oc­cur­ring in Wash­ing­ton.”

Fri­day’s Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported that the na­tional ob­ses­sion of at­tend­ing Open­ing Day through­out Ma­jor League Base­ball has re­sulted in a scram­ble for tick­ets at many sta­di­ums. That’s not the case in Wash­ing­ton, where re­build­ing the team’s farm sys­tem took prece­dence over amore ex­pen­sive ros­ter. That de­ci­sion re­sulted in gloomy pre­sea­son fore­casts and a mod­est sea­son ticket base (15,000-16,000).

“We’ll push 40,000 for the opener” at RFK (ca­pac­ity 45,596), Kas­ten said. “We’ve made good progress this spring. I think we’re build­ing some­thing spe­cial.”

Kas­ten’s op­ti­mism, the club’s ag­gres­sive mar­ket­ing over the past sev­eral weeks and some de­cent pitch­ing dur­ing spring train­ing have bright­ened the out­look for the Nats’ third sea­son.

But how the fans re­spond to the Ted Lerner-Kas­ten own­er­ship strat­egy might be as in­ter­est­ing to watch as the team’s per­for­mance on the field. Wash­ing­ton area fans clam­ored for years to get their own team. They noted that the re­gion has 4.5 mil­lion res­i­dents and was de­serv­ing. The new sta­dium opens in 2008, but the game is here now. We’ll see how many peo­ple no­tice.

Hoya Saxa

Ge­orge­town’s stun­ning 96-84 over­time vic­tory over North Carolina in the East Re­gion fi­nal last Sun­day, which pushed the Hoyas to the Fi­nal Four in John Thompson III’s third sea­son, had peo­ple talk­ing Hoyas past and present.

Wiz­ards Coach Ed­die Jor­dan, who played for Rut­gers against John Thompson Jr.’s teams in the mid-1970s: “They al­ways played de­fense un­der Big John. Very ag­gres­sive with lots of mus­cle. Ac­tive on the glass. Lots of guys from the D.C. area. They still come from the area. I’ve al­ways been proud of that.”

Wiz­ards cen­ter Etan Thomas, who played against Ge­orge­town for Syra­cuse from 1996 through 2000: “It was spe­cial. Al­ways a great game that you knew would be phys­i­cal.”

Wiz­ards as­sis­tant coach Tom Young, who coached against Ge­orge­town at Amer­i­can Univer­sity and Rut­gers early in Thompson’s ca­reer: “His de­fense al­ways won for him. John made it dif­fi­cult to run your stuff against him.”

Roger Ma­son Jr., Wiz­ards guard and grad­u­ate of Good Coun­sel and the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia: “Ge­orge­town was al­ways the team for me grow­ing up here, with Allen Iver­son, Vic­tor Page and Alonzo Mourn­ing. I loved them. I like what they’re do­ing now. Great win over North Carolina.”

John Thompson Jr., on call­ing the game on ra­dio last Sun­day for West­wood One: “I pan­icked. I was stunned. I couldn’t say a word.”

John Thompson III, at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day, on his fa­ther: “When he coached he never told any­one any­thing. Now he talks about the fam­ily and ev­ery­thing else.”

Whose Home Ice?

I went to Ver­i­zon Cen­ter on Tues­day night to see the Sid­ney Crosby-led Pitts­burgh Pen­guins (100 points through Fri­day ) de­feat the Alex Ovechkin-led Cap­i­tals (66 points), 4-3. The arena was sold out (18,277), with about half the crowd sup­port­ing the Pen­guins. Also, half the pas­sen­gers on the Metro were wear­ing Pen­guins sweaters, prompt­ing th­ese ques­tions:

When did so many peo­ple from Pitts­burgh move here?

Why? What do they do? Do you think they saw “Flash­dance”? Do they read The Post?

Do those fans who drove here from Pitts­burgh in Pens sweaters also travel to Philadel­phia and live to tell their sto­ries?

If Pitts­burgh is such a great hockey town, how come the team al­most moved to Las Ve­gas?

Ex­plained Caps owner Ted Leon­sis: “We sold about 2,000 tick­ets to Pens fans in Pitts­burgh. The rest were from D.C. —Penn­syl­va­nia trans­plants that have come out to show sup­port for their great young team. I’m sure our fans will do like­wise when we are a great team. They’ve been re­build­ing for six years; we hope to be very good a lot sooner.”

Fi­nally

K The Red­skins have left me speech­less and with­out an­swers. Why over­pay line­backer Lance Briggs when Rocky McIn­tosh (sec­ond-round pick last year) seems ca­pa­ble?

Why the up­com­ing schmooze with quar­ter­back JaMar­cus Rus­sell of LSU, who fig­ures to be the top player taken in the draft? Is some­one at Red­skins Park play­ing fan­tasy games? Is some­one out there mess­ing with Ja­son Camp­bell’s mind? Who comes up with th­ese cocka­mamie ideas? K Sug­ges­tion for WRC (Chan­nel 4): Hire Joe Theis­mann. K “Fri­day Night Lights” Up­date: Dil­lon de­feated the Brant­ley Vik­ings, 14-8, in the Texas high school foot­ball semi­fi­nals Wed­nes­day night on QB Matt Sara­cen’s boot­leg touch­down run on the game’s fi­nal play. The game was played in the rain in a Dil­lon cow pas­ture af­ter a toxic spill made the Pan­thers’ home field un­us­able. “Coach [Eric] Tay­lor’s field of dreams,” grum­bled ri­val coaches. Booster Buddy Gar­rity is now pro­vid­ing cash gifts to play­ers, all of whom have more fun than I did at Mi­ami Beach High (’58).

BY RICKY CARIOTI — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Pres­i­dent Bush re-in­au­gu­rated the tra­di­tion of first pitches at the Na­tion­als’ 2005 home opener. “Pres­i­den­tial open­ers are part of our his­tory,” Com­mis­sioner Bud Selig said.

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