Harry Jaffe: Once around the bases for baseball in D.C.

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Local,DC,Harry Jaffe

Memorial Day weekend was a sweet spell for the Washington Nationals and those of us who love Major League Baseball.

Skies were clear and weather was cool. Fans filled the stands. The team draws an average of 33,000 a game, better than Boston, Atlanta and Baltimore. The Nationals beat the Phillies two games out of three before dropping Monday's game to the Baltimore Orioles, 6-2. The Nats ended the four-day weekend two and two, flirting with a .500 record.

This, my hometown fans, is where I believe you will see the Nationals for the rest of the season: struggling to stay even up in the win-loss column.

Before I bid this space farewell, I wanted to serve up props to the folks who brought baseball back to the capital city. Every time I hit Nationals Park, I appreciate the emerald diamond and the Capitol dome over the left field wall and I think of our baseball heroes.

Nine years ago, it was Mayor Tony Williams, council member Jack Evans and Mark Tuohey, then head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, who prevailed in brutal combat with Virginia to bring baseball to our town.

Dreamers like banker Bob Pincus, Evans and his running buddy, Bill Hall, always conspired to replace the Senators, who split D.C. in 1971. As the city's fortunes fell in the 1980s, Virginians started to lobby for a major league team. They were led by businessman and one-time catcher Jim Collins, who formed the Virginia Baseball Club.

In 1999, Tony Williams, with Evans by his side, donned baseball caps with a "W" and announced their baseball crusade by crooning "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Meanwhile, Collins hunted for a stadium site and worked on Virginia politicians to fund it.

In 2002, Major League Baseball bought the failing Montreal Expos and made it known the team was looking for a U.S. home. Virginia and D.C. joined the battle. Collins wooed baseball owners with chopper rides over stadium sites near Washington Dulles International Airport. District politicians and financier Fred Malek pushed every button, including quiet chats with then-President George W. Bush.

In the end, D.C. won the team, because Mark Tuohey spent hours negotiating with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Williams with Evans hammered through a public financing deal for a D.C. stadium. Mark Warner, then Virginia governor, had backed out of bonds to build the stadium. Game over.

The Lerner Family beat out Fred Malek's group for the rights to buy the team in 2004. From last place in 2010, the Nats won their first division title last season, and this spring, many experts picked them to win the World Series.

Not so easy. Young phenom Bryce Harper is awe-inspiring but keeps coming up lame. Pitching star Stephen Strasburg might be a head case. High-priced right fielder Jayson Werth has been nursing an injury for weeks. Manager Davey Johnson has to cobble together healthy squads with minor leaguers.

Root for the home team, enjoy the game, but trim your expectations. Take it from a Phillies fan.

Harry Jaffe's column appears on Wednesday. He can be contacted at hjaffe@washingtonian.com.

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