"Baseball is about our way of life, it's about community. It's about opportunity. And now, with the Nationals, it's about our nation's capital, Washington, D.C."
-Washington D.C. mayor Anthony Williams at the November 22nd, 2004 announcement bringing the Nationals to Washington, D.C.
On November 22nd, 2004, after 33 years and a turbulent struggle with the D.C. City Council, it was announced that America's pastime would finally return to the nation's capital. The lowly Montreal Expos, who were frequently the least watched team in baseball and finished 2004 as the cellar dwellers in the NL East were being relocated to D.C. Where the game had a mixed history of great highs, such as the 1924 World Series, three American League pennants being immortalized in Damn Yankees! and Hall of Famers Sam Rice, Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush, Bucky Harris and Walter Johnson. Yet they were many horrible lows, such as losing two teams to relocation, being infamously bad and the ugly scene on September 30th 1971 when fans, upset at losing their hometown team, flooded the field in the top of the ninth, with the then-Washington Senators leading 7-5, and two men out forcing the Senators to forfeit.
The three front-runners for the teams name were the Senators (the name of D.C's team in the late 19th century and in the last 4 years of the final stay in D.C.), the Washington Greys (after the incredibly dominate D.C. based Negro Leagues team) and the Nationals, which was actually the team's official name from 1901 through 1951, although they were very widely referred to as the Senators. The Senators was the favorite, but in a political defense of the Nationals choice, mayor Williams explained `"We don't have senators here. Give us two senators, and I'll be happy to call them the Senators."
Yet in the next three months the return of baseball wasn't on very sturdy ground. D.C. City Council was very divided on the idea of a ball club coming back to Washington D.C.. City council Chairman Linda W. Cropp was very much against the team coming, mostly due to the use of public financing to pay for a ballpark. Yet on December 21st, 2004 in a 7 to 6 vote, the council adopted a stadium package to have the Nationals play for three years at the 44-year-old RFK Stadium and then open up a new ballpark along the Anacostia waterfront in 2008. This deal 100% assured that baseball was back.
On April 4th, 2005 the new Washington Nationals played their first game back against the Philadelphia Phillies in Philly and lost 8-4. Their first win came the very next night, a 7-3 victory. On April 15th, 2005, just under 33 years removed from that ugly evening, baseball returned to Washington, D.C. in front a packed house of 45,596 fans at RFK Stadium the Nationals beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3.
Baseball was back in a metropolitan area that had grown much larger (4,796,183 people according to the 2000 Census) and more successful in the 33 years since the Nationals last left. There have been no shortage of doubts and debate over baseball's return to D.C. Certain metro area residents think public spending for a team in a city with a crime problem is a bad idea, Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos believed a D.C would steal away a large part of his fan base and even area sports-fanatics/natives like myself had qualms (see, The "Washington Expos"). But the Nationals quickly passed the 1 million mark in attendance in their first season back, quieting many nay-sayers with a figure that is already an all-time high for a D.C. baseball club. And while the O's saw a slight dip in attendance and over half the Nationals games not available on television due to contract issues, the area looks like it will be able to have two teams co-existing and thriving.
Many also have big plans that the team's new stadium can help finally revive the long suffering Anacostia neighborhood in D.C. without suffering the effects of gentrification. Similar to how the MCI Center helped renew downtown D.C, as it made it a bustling commercial center while still keeping the neighborhoods to the north intact.
The great tradition of baseball has begun another chapter in Washington, D.C.