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President Ronald Reagan in 1985 called on Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth to restore “a tradition which has long been absent from the city—the presidential privilege of throwing out the first ball.” It took another 20 years before baseball would make its way back to DC, but today, the proud tradition of our great national pastime in our Nation’s Capitol lives on.
This year marks the 10th Anniversary of bringing baseball back to Washington. To coincide with the anniversary, the Newseum will honor the Nationals with an exhibit starting this week. This is a great time to celebrate how far the team has come in such a short time, but it’s also a time to look back on the progress we’ve made here in DC and the wider community.
There was a time not too long ago when crime and poor city management were rife in the District. There were many areas in the city that needed to be cleaned up, and Congress had to intervene and oversee the city’s financials.
Baseball was in a similar state of panic. In the mid 90’s, baseball was still reeling from the devastating strike that produced the longest work stoppage in the game’s history. The World Series was canceled, fans stopped showing up to ballparks, and team revenues tanked.
Major League Baseball decided to step in and save one of its most financially distressed teams, The Expos, whose hometown of Montreal is better known for hockey.
Business and city leaders in Washington saw an opportunity. Mayor Tony Williams commissioned a study that showed clear evidence that Washington could support a Major League team. The Mayor asked me to lead a potential owner group that would partner with the city, setting off what became one of the most rewarding experiences of my career.
Along with business and city leaders, we setup the Washington Baseball Club with the goal of moving the Expos to Washington. To do that we needed to select a great site, convince the DC city government to help build a world class stadium, and ultimately convince MLB to move the team to DC.
We had a great group of partners including Jeff Zients, Steve Porter, Paul Wolff, Frank Raines, Jim Kimsey, Colin Powell, Vernon Jordan and David Bradley and a fantastic executive director, Winston Lord. We worked diligently for two years and finally succeeded.
When news came that DC was getting the team, we had tears in our eyes with pride that we had helped our great city achieve its goal of providing a Major League team for the many baseball fans in our city.
While we came in second to the strong and capable Lerner Family in a lengthy but fair process to purchase the team, we are grateful of the role we all played. The hard work to bring baseball back to our nation’s capital has been an overwhelming success, and we can thank the Lerners for the way they have built the team up over the years.
In 2005, President George W. Bush took to the mound at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC to throw out the first ball, restoring the tradition of baseball in our nation’s capital.
Today, the Nationals are sitting at the top of the NL East, and young stars like Bryce Harper and pitching ace Max Sherzer are dazzling the District and baseball fans across the country. And South West DC seems to be building up as fast as the team’s fan base has.
The Nationals are a reminder for all of us who grew up around the game watching our heroes take to the field. Today, kids in our city have the same opportunity to grow up around a team and immerse themselves in this wonderful sport and learn its lessons of hard work, discipline and team spirit.
Nationals’ fans will have the opportunity this summer to relive some of the greatest moments in our team’s history when the Newseum opens its doors this week to showcase 10 years of baseball in DC. Those old Expos and Senators would be proud; our Nationals are building proudly on their heritage and offering their fans bright prospects for the future. That’s exactly what a great home team should do for its fans.