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Opening Day in the Nation's Captial

When my wife and I relocated to Fredericksburg, Virginia in 2003 I went from a surfeit of Major League Baseball (we lived in Oakland and I attended many Athleticss and San Francisco Giants games), to having the closest MLB team 100 miles away in Baltimore (the Orioles). Yes it was great to be within 200 miles of my lifelong passion, the Philadelphia Phillies, but a 200-mile trip is not done on a whim.

So I was delighted when in 2005 the Montreal Expos, a benighted franchise that had suffered with one of the worst ballparks in history (the tomb-like Stade Olympique left over from the 1976 Summer Games), a passionate but too-small fan base in hockey country, and terrible ownership that finally left the team in league receivership. When the talk was of “contraction”, they were talking about the Expos.

So I had National League baseball available roughly 50 miles away, and while the first few seasons were unrewarding to the local nine, and the crumbling RFK stadium was barely adequate, better days for DC baseball were clearly on the horizon.

Let it be said that after a sparkling dawn in 2012 when the young and nasty Nationals led MLB with 98 wins, the full day of 2013 has raised expectations to a pennant at the least, and a World Series championship as a very real possibility. The disappointment of last October, when the St. Louis Cardinals once again dodged a fateful last strike to pull out an improbable victory, is surely behind a team that will have an unfettered Stephen Strasburg and a florescent Bryce Harper to go with a roster that has no apparent weaknesses. They have a very solid rotation behind Strasburg, a bolstered bullpen with the addition of proven closer Rafael Soriano, and a productive lineup amplified with the acquisition of consummate leadoff man Denard Span from the Minnesota Twins. They appear to be the new Beasts of the East.

Attendance at Nationals Park was just under 2.4 million and 30 thousand per game in 2012 and those numbers are almost certain to improve. The TV ratings were up and since the team is (and will remain) the junior partner in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network owned by Baltimore Orioles’ owner Peter Angelos, that should mean additional revenue to help maintain a growing payroll that is certain to rise past $100 million from 2012’s $90 million.

The newest addition to the team will be the effigy of President (and Chief Justice) William Howard Taft, who will join the “Mount Rushmore Four” in the seventh-inning races. Despite a lackluster term noted mostly by being the only president ever to get stuck in a bathtub at the White House, Taft did bequeath us the seventh-inning stretch, during a Senators game in 1910. When he rose from his seat, so did the fans, and thus an enduring tradition was born.

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