WASHINGTON, D.C. - The 73-year-old former Washington Senators public address announcer was not about to let a protester ruin another big baseball day in the nation's capital. Charlie Brotman wrestled the intruder out of the way, clearing the stage for the Montreal Expos to be rechristened the Washington Nationals.
With approval by baseball owners and a ballpark funding package still pending, the franchise in flux forged ahead Monday with a splashy ceremony before hundreds of fans in the grand hall at Union Station, unveiling a new name, logo, cap and plenty of new merchandise for sale on the spot.
"Baseball is about our way of life," Mayor Anthony Williams said. "It's about opportunity. And now with the Nationals, it's about our nation's capital."
The team also announced its home opener at RFK Stadium, the club's temporary home until a new ballpark is built, has been moved up to April 14, so as not to compete for attention with a Jackie Robinson event at Dodger Stadium the following day.
Selling his baseball plan to Washington residents has not been easy for Williams, and the opposition was visible just before the news conference began when a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party jumped on stage with a sign reading "Stop the $614 million stadium giveaway."
The protester, Adam Eidinger, managed to say, "This is a bad deal, people" before Brotman engaged him in a tussle that nearly knocked over the lectern. Others joined the fray, and Eidinger was eventually led away by security to cheers from the crowd. He was detained for about 15 minutes and released.
"This is about a baseball team coming to Washington," Brotman then told the crowd before pausing to catch his breath. "I'm breathing hard. This has nothing to do with a heavyweight championship fight coming to town."
Team president Tony Tavares later announced that Brotman "will become our head of Homeland Security."
Eidinger and a few other protesters scattered in the hall oppose Williams' plan for public financing to build a new ballpark, a concern voiced by many residents that has delayed approval by the District of Columbia Council. Estimates put the final cost well above the original price tag of $435 million. Recent compromises appear to have the legislation back on track for an initial vote on Nov. 30, with final approval expected before the Dec. 31 deadline set in an agreement with the Expos.
Baseball owners, who put off a vote last week, are expected to approve the move by Dec. 6.
The protests failed to dampen spirits of city and baseball officials. The team unveiled a red, white and blue logo with "Washington" on a red ribbon, "Nationals" on a blue field, and a baseball nested in a semicircle of stars. The red caps with the script "W" are nearly identical to those worn by the old Senators. There is also to be a secondary logo featuring an interlocking "DC."
"The team name and colors not only represent our new home," Tavares said, "but symbolize the joining together of Washington's baseball past and its future."
The team also unveiled pennants, T-shirts and a Web site (http://www.nationals.com), but uniforms and a mascot are still being designed.
Nationals was the official name of the original American League franchise more popularly known as the Senators. The team played in Washington from 1901-60, with both names used interchangeably for several decades. Owner Calvin Griffith officially changed the name to Senators in 1957.
The confusion over the two names was evident in a song Brotman remembered from the 1950s.
"I'm nuts about the Nats. I'm nuts about the Nats," Brotman sang. "I'm crazy 'bout the Senators, and nuts about the Nats."
There was also a team called the Nationals that played in Washington in the 1870s and 1880s. Senators was also used for a National League team in Washington in the late 1800s, as well as an expansion American League team that played from 1961-71 before becoming the Texas Rangers.
Commissioner Bud Selig preferred the name Senators for Washington's latest team, but the mayor objected because the District of Columbia does not have representation in the U.S. Senate. Williams preferred the Grays, a tribute to the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team that played in Washington in the 1930s and 1940s.
"The mayor was on the Grays. Bud was on Senators," Tavares said. "And I think you see a compromise candidate. But I don't want to sell it as that. I think it's a great name."
Tavares also announced that deposits had been taken for more than 13,000 season tickets in less than a week of sales. That would translate into an attendance of more than one million in 2005 - already more the Expos drew in Montreal last season.
The team has also been busy acquiring talent. General manager Jim Bowden traded for outfielder Jose Guillen and signed free agent infielders Cristian Guzman and Vinny Castilla within the past week.
"I don't think we're done yet," Tavares said. "We're looking to get better and better and not just sneak in the back door of Washington, D.C., but charge into the division and play competitive baseball."
Chad Bentz, a 1999 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, made his major league debut for the Expos last season as a left-handed relief pitcher and spent four months in the majors before being sent down to the minors to develop a slider. Bentz, who finished the season on the injured list with shoulder and foot problems, still is listed as a member of the team's 40-man major league roster.
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