Nationals play (practice) ball!
History will record that the Washington Nationals won their first-ever competitive event, edging the Mets at their spring training home field at Space Coast Stadium by a score of 5-3. (History will omit the fact that I was in the vicinity of this practice game while it was being played, about six miles above in a United Airlines jet, returning home from Costa Rica.) Seeing the Nationals on the field in uniform is still almost too fantastic to believe... Even though their inaugural win means virtually nothing, it was still a nice way to start. Even nicer was when they beat the Orioles, who will become the "natural" interleague rival club. MLB just announced that the Nats and O's will play at least three games against each other during the 2006 season.
To the surprise of no one, Peter Angelos is still refusing to budge in negotiations with MLB over compensation and broadcast rights issues. This is causing further delays in the process of selling the Nationals to private investors, which in turn will make it hard for the team to expand its salary budget until very late in the season. There goes our chances for the postseason! Thomas Boswell wrote about all this in the Washington Post:
Perhaps out of malice because D.C. finally dared to get a team, or simply to wangle the best deal for his Orioles, Angelos has filibustered all spring in marathon reparation negotiations. Before Opening Day, all this will be settled. Top officials are furious at Angelos for refusing what they consider generous, if not excessive, offers. The call-his-bluff stage is coming soon.
All of which made the Nats' televised victory even tastier.
Scorched-earth tactics by Mr. Angelos notwithstanding, any remaining legal contingencies that might have thwarted the start of baseball in Washington have now effectively vanished, so I've officially raised the likelihood of the Nationals playing in D.C. as scheduled to 100 percent.
Stadium updates: D.C., L.A., etc.
The D.C. government has chosen three architectural firms as finalists in the bid to design the new stadium near the Anacostia River: the renowned Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum (HOK) of Kansas City; Harwood K. Smith of Dallas; and Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. A final decision is expected by the end of the week. The architectural proposes submitted at this stage do not include specific design plans, just broad parameters. It is reassuring that D.C. officials don't want just another ultra-nostalgic retro stadium, a once-laudable trend that was, unfortunately, taken to extremes in recent years. They want something unique. For more, see washingtonpost.com.
All systems are go at RFK Stadium, including the new self-propelled seating rotation mechanism that will make it possible for baseball and soccer to co-exist in perfect harmony -- or so they say. It's never been done before. Single-game Nationals tickets go on sale this Saturday, but tickets for Opening Day won't be sold until March 26...
In spite of the apocalyptic floods that have plagued the Los Angeles area for the last several weeks -- Repent, Hollywood! The End is near!? -- renovations at Dodger Stadium are somehow on schedule. New dugouts are being built about 15 feet closer to the diamond, and several rows of "Baseline Field Box seats" (very l-o-w) are being installed along the foul lines. Will the 1,600 new seats add to Dodger Stadium's "permanent" capacity of 56,000? The extra rows will create a very long "notch" in each corner, much like at Yankee Stadium but even longer. To restore authenticity, real dirt will replace that fake rubber surface on the warning tracks. For more, see mlb.com.
The Cubs have announced that the bleachers at Wrigley Field will be expanded prior to the 2006 season, adding 1,970 to the capacity. No word from Detroit on how the process of moving the bullpens from right field to left field is going... The Cardinals' new ballpark, Busch Stadium III, is assuming recognizable form with much of the steel superstructure and brick exterior on the south end already completed. Yet uncertain is whether partial demolition on Busch Stadium II can be avoided until the end of the 2006 season in order to give enough time for completing the new stadium, which overlaps the "footprint" of the current one.
Back from vacation
Fear not, sports fans, I've returned safe and sound from the jungles of Central America, and I'm raring to go as the new season gets underway. I do plan to make continual revisions and enhancements to the baseball pages, which I've spelled out more explicitly in the left column. Can I guarantee that I will proceed in that precise order. No, but that is my general plan. I've been in touch with Bruce Orser about what the original Wrigley Field was like, and we are both stumped for the moment. I may end up doing a "best guess" version for the 1914-1922 period.