Imagine New York without Major League Baseball's Yankees. Dallas without the National Football League's Cowboys. Manchester, England without football's United or any other large city without its beloved sports team. That has been what baseball fans in Washington have endured for more than three decades. The debut of the Washington Nationals has rekindled enthusiasm for many.
ANNOUNCER: "Ladies and gentlemen, baseball is back!"
Washington baseball fans once again have a team to cheer for, fans like Doug Jemal who was at the Nationals home opener at RFK Stadium Thursday night.
"I think it is absolutely priceless. The American pastime is being played in the nation's capital. That means an awful lot. 34 years is a long time to wait," he said.
The wait was rewarded with a five to three victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the promise of many new seasons of baseball to come. For some like 11-year-old Joseph Williams, the return of baseball is literally a new beginning. "I got to witness a moment in history in the first opening game of the Washington Nationals," he added.
President Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch and the capacity crowd cheered for Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, who staked his political reputation on bringing baseball back to the U.S. capital.
The last Major League Baseball game in Washington was very different. The image of angry fans storming the field at RFK Stadium on September 30th, 1971 has haunted the city until now. They ripped up bases and chunks of turf in a mad scramble for souvenirs as the former Washington Senators played their final game before relocating to Texas to become the Rangers. The Senators were the last Major League Baseball team to move to another city, until this year. The Montreal Expos moved south from Canada and have become the Washington Nationals.
Not everyone is happy about baseball's return. Some local politicians feel the millions of dollars spent on the new team should have been used to improve dilapidated schools and fund other needed social programs. Scheduled for completion in 2008, a new baseball stadium was a prerequisite for the city winning approval of the Expos move from Canada. The estimated $535 million cost will be financed through private funding and a tax on local businesses. RFK Stadium received $18 million of improvements to host the team for three years.
Twice Washington has lost a Major League Baseball team. The original franchise was called the Nationals before the unofficial nickname of the Senators took root. But after poor attendance, the owner moved the team to Minnesota after the 1960 season where they became the Twins. As a stinging reminder to Washington fans, Minnesota won World Series titles in 1987 and 1991.
Washington received an expansion team that began playing in 1961. But the second incarnation of the Senators failed after posting 10 losing seasons in 11 years. The owner moved the club to Texas for the 1972 season.
In both 2003 and 2004, poor fan attendance in Montreal prompted the former Expos to play about one fourth of their 81 scheduled "home" games in Puerto Rico.
Washington fans are hoping a role reversal of history will be the beginning of perhaps a baseball dynasty of their own.