A New Yorker strides into Yankee or Shea Stadium looking for baseball. The Washingtonian walks into a baseball game in a suit, tie and winged-tip shoes, looking for a lobbyist. He or she usually carries a briefcase and rarely shuts up. This type loves to see, be seen and entertain. So last September, when Major League Baseball dropped the Nationals in its pseudo-home at Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy Stadium in Southeast Washington, it became a new place to check BlackBerry’s, talk about the movement of House Resolution 123, and oh yeah, watch baseball.
Playing America’s pastime was on the periphery for many, not only the politicos. MLB and three ownership groups played a 20-month game of political tug-of-war to find a suited owner that they would grace with the honor of paying $450 million for the team and its decrepit stadium. Real estate developer Theodore M. Lerner, a GW alumnus and emeritus member of the GW Board of Trustees, was selected Wednesday by Commissioner Bud Selig to cut the check for the Nats.
The billionaire is well-connected in Washington and his ownership group includes high-level Washingtonians such as Rodney E. Slater, the former Secretary of Transportation. The decision was among the hardest Selig has made in his 14 years as commissioner of baseball, he said Wednesday, but this group had the right combination of race, riches and recognition in Washington to call the Nats their own.
From mezzanine section 22, row one, seats 19 and 20, the decision is sound. Marvin Kalb, the namesake of the GW-sponsored Kalb Report and former host of NBC’s Meet the Press; and Stephen Hess, a GW Distinguished Research Professor of Media and Public Affairs, sit and snack.
Kalb, a self-proclaimed sports freak, recalls taking his daughter to one of the last Senators games and watching his team. The 76-year old journalist is “thrilled” with baseball’s return to D.C., and is happy that the team’s new owner is a fellow Washingtonian.
“It’s not necessary, but it’s another good thing to have,” Kalb said of Lerner’s Bethesda, Md., residency. “You know then that it’s not just money. You can get people with money from California, and for them, it’s just another ballpark. But when you get someone who is a Washingtonian, it gives it that much more magic.”
Hess said he is equally excited about the new owner.
“They are billionaires and I like that,” Hess said. “It shows they are not in it for the money.”
Hess conceded he had friends in other groups from whom he would’ve benefited, but he will still happily attend games because baseball is his passion.
“I’m a baseball fan,” Hess said. “For me, football is played by people who are 300 pounds. Basketball is played by people who are seven feet tall. Baseball is played by human beings.
“I’ve always identified with baseball. I grew up in New York and I grew up on it. For me, this is really important. It wouldn’t be important to me if we got a championships tiddlywinks team. This is my sport, and it’s back home.”