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Bring baseball back to the Anacostia

(Published February 11, 2002)


My oldest sister was swooning over Paul Anka singing about "Puppy Love" when my dad started bringing home crayon pictures, drawn for me by the little boy of one of his customers at the welding shop.

It was the early ’60s. The artist was a kid named Larry, who attended grade school with me, and he soon became one of the town’s Little League stars. My other sister, Susie, would sometimes accompany me and our two "best" girlfriends from down the block – their little brother played on Larry’s team – to watch the boys play ball at Cedarquist Park.

Girls couldn’t play in Little League back then, but we pitched and hit and ran with the boys when they practiced at home between games.

I eventually gave up hardball after one too many line drives found my stomach instead of my borrowed glove.

But my love for the game has lived on – cemented by a nickel bet, won by Susie and me, that Bob Gibson and the St. Louis Cardinals would beat the boys’ beloved New York Yankees in the 1964 World Series.

Years later, Susie and I teamed up with our mom – who had cheered the likes of Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige on "Ladies’ Days" as the Cleveland Indians became world champions in 1948 – to travel to Cooperstown, N.Y., to watch the immortal Paige accept his place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

When I was in high school, we traveled 300 miles to a National League city just for the chance to watch – in person – the great Willie Mays make one of his trademark breadbasket catches during his last full season with the Giants.

In college, my freshman-year roommate and I were part of the thunderous standing ovations in the opening series when Hank Aaron came "home" to Milwaukee in April 1975 after he broke Babe Ruth’s career home run record the previous year while playing for Atlanta.

And 20 years later, in 1995, a bumper sticker that declares "My Heart’s in Cleveland" went up in the back window of my minivan to signify my delight that the Cleveland Indians had made it to the World Series, for the first time in my lifetime.

Though I’ve lived in the District for more than 20 years now – having moved here a decade after Washington’s last professional ball club was hustled away to Arlington, Texas, ultimately making George W. Bush a rich man – baseball has always been a part of my life.

And so it is with great anticipation that I follow the attempts by local groups to acquire a major league franchise to bring the national pastime back to the nation’s capital.

Major league baseball belongs in Washington, D.C. There should be little doubt about that. But the game should be played not in the suburbs, or downtown, but where it was played most recently by the Washington Senators — on the west bank of the Anacostia River.

Suburbia has already taken the Redskins, with no apparent advantage to the sport or to the fans. A team called the Virginia Senators would be as oxymoronic as the Utah Jazz.

A new baseball stadium downtown? The mayor and others who propose such a monstrosity spend too little time trying to navigate downtown traffic from behind the wheel. New downtown stadiums in Baltimore and Cleveland – often cited as part of those cities’ revitalization success stories – have worked precisely because they are located nearly adjacent to freeways.

Building a baseball stadium in downtown D.C. would likely backfire – leading people to stay away from downtown restaurants and retail stores to avoid the inevitable traffic nightmare on game days.

If D.C. taxpayers must swallow a new baseball stadium, with the requisite state-of-the-art amenities and loges for spectators who don’t really want to watch the game, it should be built along the Anacostia, adjacent to Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium – which should be refurbished to host our major league soccer teams, D.C. United and the Freedom.

Washington is a river city that refuses to act like one. We treat our rivers as toilets and inconveniences that require expensive bridges for traversing.

Bringing baseball back to the Anacostia shore could help change that. It could spur redevelopment of the waterfront for public use and encourage the cleanup of a long-neglected river that should be a jewel of the city.

Imagine the Anacostia riverfront as a vibrant collection of restaurants, clubs and shops, where "valet rafting" of recreational motorboats along a boardwalk could be as popular as it is on Cleveland’s once-neglected Cuyahoga River, with boats tied up nine deep on busy nights.

Imagine water taxis transporting passengers between commercial enterprises on BOTH sides of the Anacostia, much as they do around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and Cleveland’s Flats.

Tear down D.C. General Hospital? Why not? Even those of us who strongly support a public hospital in the District recognize that the city needs a new, state-of-the-art medical facility to replace the antiquated and dilapidated structure that was closed by the control board. The city should build a new D.C. General Hospital where a hospital is sorely needed – in Ward 7, east of the Anacostia River.

And it should make the Anacostia waterfront a welcome place for people – and for baseball.

Copyright 2002, the Common Denominator