Baseball Springs to Life With Nationals' Optimism

With owner Mark Lerner looking on, the new inductees into the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame: CBS's James Brown, former Anacostia High head football coach Willie Stewart, former Washington Redskins Brian Mitchell, former Post columnist Michael Wilbon and former DeMatha High basketball coach Morgan Wooten
Robert Devaney
With owner Mark Lerner looking on, the new inductees into the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame: CBS's James Brown, former Anacostia High head football coach Willie Stewart, former Washington Redskins Brian Mitchell, former Post columnist Michael Wilbon and former DeMatha High basketball coach Morgan Wooten

On baseball's raw Opening Day, March 31, the Washington Nationals ran onto the field amid celebration, the roar of the crowd and unbending optimism.

In his press conference during NatsFest, the day before opening, manager Jim Riggleman said that it was strange not to be managing against the Atlanta Braves' retired manager Bobby Cox. For him, Ryan Zimmerman has had "a great start."

"And expectations for the team?" asked Lindsay Czarniak of NBC 4.

The Nationals must "play good, fundamentally sound baseball," Riggleman said. "And give up less runs." As for the new Nat and former Phillie Jayson Werth, he added, "Jayson speaks up. It carries clout when you've won."

The Nationals have yet to have a winning season, and attendance on this drizzly afternoon was the lowest ever for a Nationals' Opening Day.

But fans were not thinking about that on this day. You know it's a good day when you walk out to the street looking for a cab and find neighbors—yourself included—jumping into a station wagon bound for Nationals Park. Our driver Ken Dreyfuss, who coaches the freshman crew at Georgetown University, recalled the days when DC school kids could submit notes from their parents to be excused from school because they were attending Opening Day. It was a given, and baseball retains that natural, neighborhood ease of inclusion and serendipity.

A renewed DC Hall of Fame began the show: CBS sportscaster James Brown, Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Dawes, former Washington Redskins running back Brian Mitchell, former Anacostia High head football coach Willie Stewart, former Post columnist Michael Wilbon and former DeMatha High head basketball coach Morgan Wootten. (Dawes could not attend.)

"The Star-Spangled Banner" was sung to a giant flag on the field. Then, a unique, slightly awkward set-up: the first pitches by five generals to five catchers. And then, Mayor Vincent Gray, cried out: "Play ball!" And he was booed. Loudly.

Happy regulars were seen around the stadium: former Mayor Adrian Fenty with his children going to the Stars and Stripes suites, as PR legend Charlie Brotman walks by and says hello; councilman Jack Evans in a parka cabitzing with friends; neighborhood commissioner Bill Starrels leaning on the rail; publicist Victoria Michael looking pretty in pink.

You see, baseball reserves its power to take it all in—win or lose—and make it all right, even if the Nats did lose, 2-0, to the Braves. A half smoke and a cold beer ain't so bad, either.

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Fri, 22 Aug 2014 15:38:35 -0400

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