Ber­nad­ina re­flects on friend’s death

Hal­man, Mariners prospect, was stabbed in Novem­ber

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY NATHAN FENNO

VIERA, FLA. | In the back of Roger Ber­nad­ina’s locker is a crum­pled blue bag hold­ing two base­ball cards.

Ber­nad­ina can’t es­cape the care­free face that grins at him from the cards. “In Memo­riam,” the cards read. “Gre­gory A. Hal­man.” While Ber­nad­ina fights for an out­field job with the Washington Na­tion­als this spring, the mem­ory of his mur­dered friend is never far away. Last Novem­ber, Hal­man, a 24-year-old out­fielder with the Seat­tle Mariners, was stabbed to death in Rot­ter­dam, Nether­lands.

Hal­man’s num­ber is still in Ber­nad­ina’s iphone. They re­main Face­book friends. Ber­nad­ina talks about Hal­man as though he’s still alive. The base­ball cards dis­trib­uted at Hal­man’s fu­neral keep him close.

“It’s still a shock,” Ber­nad­ina said in a quiet voice. “I still can’t re­al­ize it ac­tu­ally hap­pened.”

The two worked out to­gether in the Nether­lands. They

Let’s face it, base­ball’s sea­son is al­most twice as long as any other sport’s. (And it seems even longer now that step­ping out of the bat­ter’s box has be­come so fash­ion­able.) You can’t ask fans to fol­low their teams for 162 games, at no small fi­nan­cial and emo­tional cost, and then ex­clude so many of them from the play­off fun. It’s just not good busi­ness.

Be­sides, as other sports have shown, the post­sea­son is the time when you show­case your game — and the longer you can make the post­sea­son last, the longer you can keep the public’s at­ten­tion fo­cused on it. Does any­one re­ally think the NFL has dam­aged it­self by in­creas­ing the num­ber of its play­off field from two (through 1966) to the cur­rent 10? Why, the league’s pop­u­lar­ity is at an all-time high.

Look at it from the Washington point of view. The NFL in­sti­tuted wild-card berths — one in each con­fer­ence — in 1970, when it merged with the AFL. The next year, Ge­orge Allen’s Red­skins were the NFC’S wild-card team . . . and were again in ‘73, ‘74 and ‘76. Imag­ine how dif­fer­ent the ‘70s would have been around here if the league hadn’t ex­panded its play­off for­mat.

It was the same thing in 1990, when the NFL went from four wild cards to six. Had that not hap­pened, the Red­skins wouldn’t have qual­i­fied for the post­sea­son that year (and wouldn’t have up­set the Ea­gles in Philadel­phia to avenge their loss in the in­fa­mous “Body­bag Game”). And of course, a cou­ple of sixth seeds, the 2010 Green Bay Pack­ers and the 2005 Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, have gone on to win the Su­per Bowl.

It’s easy to dis­miss wild-card teams as a prod­uct of sports in­fla­tion, as sym­bols of the ev­ery­body-gets-a-tro­phy men­tal­ity. But some­times they’re just teams that peaked later than other clubs — or got healthy in the sec­ond half of the sea­son. This much is cer­tain: They pro­duce mas­sive amounts of havoc in the play­offs, break hearts from Philadel­phia to Ana­heim. I mean, there’s a rea­son they call them cards. And in a game that’s still de­bat­ing the mer­its of the des­ig­nated hit­ter (and took a cen­tury to grasp the im­por­tance of the on-base per­cent­age), they’re a par­tic­u­larly sub­ver­sive el­e­ment.

In­deed, there are old-school types who have re­sisted the no­tion of wild cards ev­ery step of the way. But it’s hard to hold back the tide of his­tory, point­less even. The uni­verse is ex­pand­ing, and there’s noth­ing you, I or Bud Selig can do about it. All we can do is sit back and en­joy the ride.

The first year, es­pe­cially, could be straight out of Six Flags. In fact, as the reg­u­lar sea­son winds down, base­ball prob­a­bly will be wish­ing there were 32 days in Oc­to­ber. In one dooms­day sce­nario, a team could have to play a tiebreaker game just to get to the win-or-pack-it-in wild-card round. The pos­si­bil­ity of rain­outs would com­pli­cate mat­ters even fur­ther. And we haven’t even dis­cussed all the hop­ping around, from one city to an­other, these wild-card clubs might have to do.

But some of that can be sorted out over time as MLB fine-tunes the process. The main thing is, the play­offs have be­come more in­clu­sive, more fan-friendly — and a bone has even been thrown to the tra­di­tion­al­ists. While more teams will be in the mix now, it will be more dif­fi­cult for a wild card to win the World Se­ries be­cause it will have a longer and harder road to travel.

But never mind that. A Washington base­ball team hasn’t ad­vanced to the post­sea­son since 1933. Any­thing that raises the Na­tion­als’ win­dow of op­por­tu­nity is fine by me. That’s a long time, 1933. The uni­verse back then was a much smaller place.

AN­DREW HARNIK/THE WASHINGTON TIMES

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Na­tion­als cen­ter fielder Roger Ber­nad­ina (left) and Seat­tle Mariners out­fielder Greg Hal­man (above) were among a group of ma­jor lea­guers who toured Europe in Novem­ber. A week af­ter they parted, Hal­man, 24, was dead, and his brother, Ja­son, was charged with mur­der.

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