Tuesday, August 01, 2006




So much has happened in one and one-half seasons of 21st Century Nationals baseball that we may not have taken time to pause to absorb it. For one, please point out the four people in the D.C. Metro area who do not sport at least one version of the Nats hat?

Two, for the past 162 games, this is about the worst team in baseball, yet for the past two weeks, the four-letter network and FOX and most major dailies gave wall-to-wall coverage of the Soriano saga (the latest redux of Joseph Heller's sequel to Catch 22 - "Something Happened" which the NY Times aptly reviewed: "'Something Happened' - Nothing Happens."

Before that, it was all the hoopla about who would be selected to run the team. And immediately thereafter, all the huckstering by Kasten and his boy Bowden, whom everyone (wrongfully) presumed would be fired as the Kasten's first official action.

And, of course, the persistent interplay of the evil one, Peter Angelos ("There are no real baseball fans in Washington"); the painstaking one, Bud Selig buying off Angelos by making the Nationals, in essense, accessable by short-wave radio only; Comcast playing hardball and putting itself in harm's way with Congress; and many prominent politicians in D.C. trying to play the race card, somehow, out of a baseball team!!

Add the usual Washington Post elite "populism" and bias against the team, and its anecdotal fixation that RFK is a ballpark which can actually cause harm to its patrons, and a shared sense with Angelos that there are (or shouldn't be) any real baseball fans in D.C. {Anyone seen Post wit Mike Wise lately, now that the football team whose name he vowed not to use has started training camp?) And the largest proven no-nothing in sports reporting, Tom L. (is that his real voice?) of the Washington Times is no anedote, certainly...

So how is it that everything about this team just seems to warm the heart of fans and players alike, and creates so much buzz throughout baseball?

Community is the answer - you just cannot engineer it artificially, either. Tom Boswell has it. Frank Robinson has it. 20,000 hardcore Nats fans have it. Jose Guillen caught it. Ryan Zimmerman grew up respecting it. Alfonso Soriano had almost given up finding it in a commercial and cold America - but much to his own suprise, he found it and fell in love with it, apparently. Kasten is adapting to it, as manna from heaven for a sports franchise. Mark Lerner has it - Bowden is trying to claim it...

The Senators liked playing here, to a person. There has always been something special about the D.C. baseball fan - the teams were rarely good since about the mid-1950's on, but the fan was supportive and positive, and truly loved and responded to a player, who, while imperfect, gave what he had completely. This was certained exemplified by Hondo Howard - our true Hometown Hero. (Sorry, Gary Carter!!!!- is this a joke or what!!!!)

D.C. baseball fans have not had a player as complete and solid as Ryan Zimmerman since perhaps Micky Vernon; they have not had a true superstar since the 1933 team and before (Joe Cronin,and that gang; and before that, Walter Johnson) - thus, they cannot quite believe that Alfonso Soriano wears a Nationals uniform, and is indeed a superstar, one of the five best everyday players in the National League...That is probably why most had resigned themselves to his departure, and like me, had begun the grieving process, but were prepared to pore over the minor league statistics of the players received for him, and even listen to some false hope promises that the Nationals would be in the bidding war for him to return, after the season. (No way that would have happened, in reality, of course.)

Community and continuity: ironically, Kasten keeping Bowden, and Bowden not dealing Soriano, or Livo even, spells continuity, even were it just serendipity...The major problem, obviously, with the Expos has been the lack of it - no permanent place to play, no certainty players could stay and learn to play with one another, no permanent owner, etc.

The only true constant has been the manager through all the club's vagabound years - Frank Robinson, himself a superstar who found glory when he changed leagues at 30 to play left field for the Orioles with a rock at third base named Brooks Robinson. So, in two regards, perhaps the Nats are now reminiscent of the O's in 1966, with four major exceptions: superb (future Hall of Fame) starting pitchers who shut down the LA Dodgers 4-0.

The Nationals now have a solid line-up, and some versatile guys on the bench. With Vidro playing, albeit he hits a "soft .300" - it (still) adds a .300 hitter to the current line-up!

By signing Soriano for $65 million over 5 years, for example, the Nationals face the problems of paying Livo $7 million, and Guzman another $4 million (yes, he got that this year, too!). Those three alone would constitute $24 million of a (tops) $85 million payroll for 2007. {almost 30%}

The team currently has NO reliable starting pitching, and a very thin bull-pen. If Kasten-Bowden presume that all four arm surgeries go perfectly for Patterson; Lawrence; Dreese; and Ayala; and that Livo's knee has mended (how about a bit of a diet ordered to take some of the stress off it!?), that would still leave the team needing to enter the free agent market for one number 2-3 young starter, and one bona fide reliever.

Kasten and Bowden and the Lerners believe that the spirit on the club and the splash of signing Soriano long term will endear them to free agents generally, and especially Dominicans, to whom they are clearly trying to build a pipeline.

But, where does the $$$$ come from for these two sorely needed signings? I suppose some of it comes, perhaps, from trading Vidro for a reliever who is reliable. But, the team has no one, besides Castro, to slot in daily at second.

Community, continuity, confluence of good luck,and, finally, a commitment of fans to attend games are all requirements to sustain progress. The latter was a note sounded by Bowden by announcing no deals made yesterday - reminded me a bit of Bob Short chastising the fans for not supporting a woeful team in 1971, after he had dumped all the good young players for Denny McLain. But, he is right: the Lerners need to be able to rely on 2.5 million a season, at least, to make an $85 million payroll viable.

This is why pushing the MASN-Comcast agreement should be Job Number One. You simply cannot have a winning franchise with a 45 year old stadium and NO television...All the community, continuity, and confluence of good luck is eclipsed by the absence of it, in the final analysis.

And what better face to have on television 162 games, plus post-season, than the Nationals 21st Century superstar, Alfonso Soriano!! SenatorNat


Bang the Drum Natly said...

Holy jumping catfish, that was absolutely incredible, and absolutely spot on!

I especially agree with the statement that as long as our players give it their all, we will cheer for them, which why to this day I miss Jamey Carroll, and to this day most definitely cheer our current lineup, especially the already mentioned Soriano and Zimmerman, but also Nick Johnson, whom I have yet to see not hustle down the line to beat an out at first, no matter how futile it would appear to be...

Absolutely great work, sir!


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