I saw you in left field last night, after Bush ran the count to 1-and-0.
Wow. Hadn't seen you in 34 years, Frank. My, how time doesn't fly.
Can you believe it took this long to get baseball back? The last time I saw you, there was no designated hitter, no Toronto Blue Jays, no Steinbrenner, no Baseball Tonight, no steroids. Back then, the only Bonds was Bobby, and the only asterisk was Roger Maris'. The World Series was a day game, and interleague play was a spring game. It was a better time, Frank.
Damn, I've missed you. I remember how you swung a 10-pound bat and hit home runs to the moon. I covered the Mark McGwire home run chase in '98 (a fraud, it turns out), and his 500-footers reminded me of your 500-footers. I'd tell people in St. Louis that the trajectory of McGwire's homers -- with exhaust coming off the baseball -- reminded me of Frank Howard's homers. And they'd say, "Frank who?"
Boy, that made me mad. But now you're back, Frank. I saw you last night, for the first time since the fifth grade, right after Bush threw his ceremonial first pitch high and away (Remember how bad Nixon's arm was?). And, from my seat in the upper deck, you still looked mammoth, Frank. You and a bunch of other old Washington Senators took the field before the game, and I and the rest of the place gave you a standing ovation.
Detroit has Kaline, Boston has Yaz, Pittsburgh has Stargell, Atlanta has Aaron, and Washington's got Frank Howard. That's what we were all thinking last night. And I want the rest of baseball to know that. I don't want to hear any more Frank Who's. All these teams are going to be coming into town this year, all these newfangled Marlins and Diamondbacks, and it's time to re-educate them about D.C. baseball. So that's what I'm going to do right now, Frank. For you.
1. Playing in RFK Stadium is going to be a big deal. Imagine the Dodgers coming back to play in Ebbets Field. Like, tomorrow. Like, against the Rockies. That's what this feels like. Find someone who lived in Brooklyn in the '50s and ask them how that would strike them. Their answer would be: "We'd pass out." That's why I, and my childhood buddy, Tom Wald, walked off the subway last night, took one look at RFK and teared up.
2. Frank Robinson plays for us! Well, he doesn't play, he manages. But he's ours! You've got to understand our history to know what it's like to have him. In the '60s and early '70s, the Orioles owned the Senators. Killed us. Mauled us. And Robinson was arguably their greatest player. In the '69 All-Star Game, our Frank Howard -- yes, you, Frank -- was leading the American League in home runs, and had to bat fifth in the batting order behind Robinson and Boog Powell. That's how loaded the Orioles were. So some small part of me smirked last night when Robinson showed up with a cursive W on his cap. It gave us a certain credibility, and sort of socked it to Baltimore.
3. Ignore the fans who scream, "Ooooooo" during the national anthem. It was the worst part of last night's home opener, Frank. Wasn't it? There's a whole generation of Washingtonians who grew up on Oriole baseball, and they committed an awful faux pas last night. See, during the anthem in Baltimore, right after the line, "Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there," Oriole fans let out a big, "Oooooooo" in honor of the O's. I hate it. It has nothing to do with Washington. But fans do it at Redskins games now, and some did it last night at the Nationals home opener. It's blasphemy, if you ask me. The only thing I'm proud of is that most of the fans in my section, 511, started booing when they heard it. So stop. Now.
4. Orioles owner Peter Angelos -- who wanted the Expos in Las Vegas -- is not welcome here. Put it this way. A sign along third base last night read:
5. Sorry, Yankees, we're gonna be a big market team, too. Hell, we even signed the first-ever free agent 35 years ago. A guy named Curt Flood.
6. The D.C. fans are into it. In one of the most chicken moves of all time, Vinny Castilla needed only an eighth-inning single to hit for the cycle last night, and a Diamondbacks pitcher named Lance Cormier hit him with a pitch. The fans went ballistic, booed the guy silly. Frank, in your day, that would've started a beanball war, but, hey, I liked how our crowd didn't let the guy off the hook. We've got a little Philly in us, eh?
7. These ain't your father's Expos. Unlike our Senators, who basically lost one ball in the lights a game, these Nationals look like a pretty talented group. Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson and Jose Guillen are going to get a lot of All-Star votes, and Livan Hernandez may end up in the All-Star rotation. Frank, if you'd have played with some of these guys, maybe you'd have been a household name. They wouldn't have been able to pitch around you to get to Mike Epstein.
But look at it this way, Frank. You served your purpose. For the last 34 years, when we had no baseball to speak of, when our Aprils consisted of D.C. United games and Redskins drafts, you were the only one we could truly reminisce about. Remember that ball Frank Howard hit off the scoreboard? Remember that ball he almost hit out of Tiger Stadium? The home run was just sexier back when you played, Frank. People weren't hitting 73. That's why I was screaming to you from the upper deck last night, screaming "thank you," screaming until my throat was on fire.
See, you got us through, Frank. You got us to a new era in an old stadium, and there's a certain charm in that, a certain charm in finding a newspaper this morning and seeing the standings turned completely upside down.
Washington: First in war, first in peace, first in the National League East.