For Starters, the District Deserves Opening Day

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Byline: Dick Heller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

We don't know where the Nationals will finish the season in the National League East standings, but we do know where they will start it.

In Florida.

For shame.

For most of seven decades, the Washington Senators opened the season at home with flags flying, Goldman's band tootling and a capacity crowd at Griffith or D.C./RFK Stadium reveling in this happy harbinger of spring.

Usually, the president of the United States, ranging from William Howard Taft to Richard Milhous Nixon, was on hand to toss out a ceremonial first pitch and pretend the national pastime was the most important thing on his plate.

Alas, those distant days are gone forever - at least on an annual basis. In their first five seasons, the Nats have opened at home exactly twice (2007 and 2008). In this regard, the District is - can you believe it? - just like any other major league town.

Has somebody in Major League Baseball - this means you, Bud Selig - been knocked in the noggin by too many fastballs?

On Sunday, the Nats' lidlifter - admittedly a hoary word - will be at Miami's Dolphin Stadium, a sterile, football-first facility that will be replaced by a new ballpark in three years. I hope the crowd is large enough for the Marlins to open the usually unused upper deck.

In previous seasons, the Nats have opened at Philly's Citizens Bank Park and New York's old Shea Stadium, with the home opener coming days and days later.

Not all baseball traditions are worth preserving, but this one is: For most of the 20th century, the Senators and Reds always opened at home because one city was the nation's capital and the other was the site of baseball's first professional team in 1869.

If the schedule called for them to start the season on the road, the clubs would open at home one day earlier than everybody else. No problem.

Now, according to a Major League Baseball spokesman, the Nats and Orioles will alternate opening at home. Say what? Pardon me if I sound like a snob, but Baltimore ain't exactly the District when it comes to being a world capital. After all, the Founding Fathers didn't put the White House in Catonsville or Glen Burnie.

As a D.C. native, I've experienced more than 50 Opening Days, and each was a thrill. Now, though, we won't get to see the hopefully improved Nats on their own turf until April 13, when their record theoretically could be 0-6. I don't know about you, but this seems horribly wrong to me. Heck, you might as well have the first ball thrown out by, say, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs rather than President Obama.

So I'm a baseball curmudgeon - so what? Somebody has to stand up for what's right against people like Stan Kasten, the Nats' sadly misguided president.

I've been told we'll have a July Fourth game every year, Kasten said. Frankly, that's a more important tradition than Opening Day. Given the way the sport is now - the season opens on Sunday night, and there's a Monday tripleheader [on ESPN] - I don't think Opening Day has the significance it once did. …