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National soap opera

Baseball is back in D.C., and so are its problems

Posted: Thursday July 6, 2006 3:51PM; Updated: Thursday July 6, 2006 5:07PM
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From a team standpoint, the season has been a huge failure for left fielder Alfonso Soriano and the Nationals.
From a team standpoint, the season has been a huge failure for left fielder Alfonso Soriano and the Nationals.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

When the Washington Nationals imprudently throw in the towel by sending All-Star outfielder Alfonso Soriano packing before the July 31 trade deadline, fans in the nation's capital should remember the bible verse John 16:24: "Ask, and ye shall receive."

As if White House scandals and having Peter Angelos right down the highway in Baltimore weren't enough, for 33 years Washingtonians hoped and prayed for a Major League Baseball team. However, what they've gotten up until now is something akin to a Latin telenovela of the grandest proportions. Call it Days of the Nationals, complete with tears, useless free-agent acquisitions, finger-pointing, stadium standoffs, arbitration hearings and now a bottom-of-the-barrel team.

And to think, it all started off so well. After storming into the city like a Canadian cold front, the Nationals were the overachieving darlings of the big leagues last year. When it was all said and done, they enjoyed a successful inaugural season (81-81), even though their talent and numbers suggested otherwise. Their wins and hard-fought battles on the diamond were the showcase of highlight reels from coast to coast. The Nats, in all their glory, were even in first place in the NL East for a little while, giving many fans a glimmer of hope that there would be a miracle on East Capitol Street. In addition, the team proved to be a financial success for MLB, drawing nearly 2.7 million fans to the 43-year-old RFK Stadium.

Fast-forward to this season and those good times seem like a distant memory. The Nationals are currently 14 games out of first place, having won a measly 37 games. The most recent embarrassment was a 18-9 loss to the Marlins. Attendance at RFK Stadium is down almost 20 percent from last year, and the team has dropped from 11th to 17th place in attendance.

Last winter a battle was waged between Washington's mayor, the D.C. City Council and baseball commissioner Bud Selig over a new ballpark. This left a bitter taste in everyone's mouth and caused the league to threaten to yank the Nationals out of Washington even before the paint was dry on the new team logos. Mercifully, a deal was struck between all sides at the 11th hour and a new stadium will be built by 2008. But no sooner had that deal been made than another problem arose.