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Getting baseball back in DC: 'This was a struggle'

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Getting baseball back in DC: 'This was a struggle'

WASHINGTON (AP) 1859. 1910. 1924. 1937. 1948. 1961. 1971.

The stroll up the gentle slope to the Home Plate Gate outside Nationals Park offers a concrete history of baseball in Washington, D.C., with the landmark years embedded into the sidewalk in huge red numerals.

After 1971, understandably, there is a gap. It takes a few extra steps to get to the marker for 2005.

If only those 34 years were that simple to traverse for the city's long-suffering fans, specifically those who fought, lobbied and practically begged for the sport to return after the Senators left for Texas after the '71 season.

At long last, on Wednesday, they will see the payoff. Or, more precisely, the playoffs.

``At no time - and I want to stress this -was this something that was preordained to happen,'' longtime D.C. Councilman Jack Evans said this week. ``This was a struggle. ... Baseball just didn't want to come to D.C.''

In retrospect, it only seems fitting and proper that the national pastime should be showcased in the nation's capital, that the Washington Nationals should be hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 3 of the NL division series in a packed ballpark that offers upper deck views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument.

But it's the first playoff game in D.C. since 1933. That's right: 1933. For much of that wilderness there was no baseball at all and only quixotic hopes it would return. It took an ideal storm of circumstances - involving a determined set of sung and unsung heroes - to get it back, climaxed by a celebratory announcement at Washington's City Museum on Sept. 29, 2004.

Both before and after that date, the D.C. baseball saga had more drama than a 12-inning game in October.

``There were times,'' said Fred Malik, a key figure in the quest, ``we thought we were going to blow it.''

How did it happen? The simple answer is that a game of ownership merry-go-round left the Major League Baseball powers-that-be with nowhere else to go.

Florida Marlins owner John Henry wanted to buy the Boston Red Sox, so he sold them to Jeffrey Loria, who had to sell the Montreal Expos first. That left Montreal without anyone at the top, so the other 29 major league owners bought the club, putting it in perpetual limbo with a dwindling fan base and no prospects for a much-needed new ballpark. There was even thought of eliminating the team altogether, but the major league players negotiated a moratorium on contraction in the 2002 collective bargaining agreement.

``All of a sudden the Expos are sitting there, just a horrible franchise with no owner,'' Evans said. ``The issue was, `What do we do next?'''

Portland, Las Vegas, Norfolk and Charlotte were among possible destinations, but Washington had something those cities didn't - a serviceable ballpark that would make do until a new one could be built. That would be RFK Stadium, the home of the Senators all those years ago. Though it was woefully outdated, at least it was still standing.

But baseball was playing hardball. Commissioner Bud Selig had it clear that the new ballpark would have to be financed 100 percent up-front by the city. That was a tall order for a municipality that had been through some tough financial times, and where opponents argued loudly that money should be funneled instead toward struggling schools or other needs.

Then-Mayor Anthony Williams huddled with his advisers and put his political reputation on the line by calling baseball's bluff. In the spring of 2004, he met with a group of baseball owners and explained a creative financing plan that met their demands.

``There was one clear thing baseball said to us: `You've got to build a stadium,''' Evans said. ``It wasn't `We'll pay for some of it; we'll pay for part of it.' It was: `You've got to pay for the stadium.' That was the way it was, or we're not coming. And I believe they meant that.''

Then came the follow-up questions: Was baseball serious this time, or was Washington again being used as a pawn to get other cities to make better offers? And what about Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who claimed that Washington should not have a team because it was part of his team's market?

And what about the folks across the Potomac River? The Northern Virginia region, with his wealthy residents fueled by the Internet boom, made a serious bid bankrolled by former telecommunications executive Bill Collins.

In fact, it's felt that one of the people most responsible for baseball in D.C. is then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who balked at the last minute over a financing plan that would have built a stadium in Loudoun County - just a little farther away from Baltimore.

``They had us,'' Evans said. ``And had not Gov. Warner at the time refused to back the bonds with the state's full faith and credit, they could very well have gotten the franchise.''

Eventually, baseball said yes to the Expos' move to Washington. Then they said no. A few weeks after that festive September 2004 news conference, the city council voted down the financing plan because it used too much public money.

Major League Baseball responded by shutting down the business and promotional operations that had been set up in D.C. Mayor Williams said: ``The dream of 33 years is now once again close to dying.''

``The most troubling moment in the odyssey was about 1 o'clock in the morning on that Tuesday in December,'' said Bill Hall, chairman of the D.C. government's Sports and Entertainment Committee, ``when the council was unable to pass the baseball agreement.''

Fast and furious negotiations ensued. A compromise was worked out, but one that was able to satisfy baseball. Two weeks later, the council voted 7-6 to approve the new deal, and the move was on again.

The renamed franchise, the Nationals, debuted at RFK in 2005. Certainly there have been new challenges since then. The team was terrible most of the time. Attendance was disappointing, and local television ratings were abysmal. The council had to go through another contentious vote to approve a lease agreement for the new stadium.

But baseball found an owner for the team, selling it to real estate developer Ted Lerner. The club moved into Nationals Park in 2008. Fan support has grown, and the team is finally winning.

Most of those responsible for making it happen will be there Wednesday for the playoff game. Many of them have moved on. Malik gathered a list of thousands of potential season ticket holders and hoped to own the team, but baseball passed him over in favor of Lerner. Evans is one of only two council members who essentially supported the baseball movement from start to finish who still hold elective office.

But most everyone agrees: It's all been worth it.

``When I walked out of that stadium after the last (regular season) game last Wednesday, people were just so happy and thankful and all of that,'' Evans said. ``I looked around, and the place was packed. I've been at last games in the past when there's nobody there. It just was a good feeling that whatever it took to get there, we did it. And that's what mattered.''

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter:http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

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Orioles' Adam Jones purchases Cal Ripken Jr.'s former estate, per report

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Orioles' Adam Jones purchases Cal Ripken Jr.'s former estate, per report

Cal Ripken Jr.'s 25-acre, 8,545 square-foot home went up for auction this past Saturday and the highest bidder was......Adam Jones? 

The center fielder is purchasing the Orioles legend's former Reisterstown, Md. estate, according to The Athletic

Placed on the market in 2016 for $12.5 million, Ripken reduced the price to $9.7 million last year but was still unable to find a willing buyer. The estate was eventually put up for auction and sold to Jones for an undisclosed amount. 

The six bedroom home has 10 full bathrooms, a movie theater, a gym that overlooks an indoor basketball court, a pool and a baseball field with batting cages, a locker room and soaking tubs. One of the tubs was taken from Memorial Stadium and used by Johnny Unitas and Art Donovan, but Ripken is keeping that one. 

What makes this purchase even more interesting is that Jones will become a free agent at the end of the 2018 season, but that does not mean he plans on re-signing with the team. The 32-year old, who is in his last year of a six-year $85.5 million contract, is known to dip his toes in real estate investments and his wife, Audie Fugett, is a Baltimore native. 

The deal is scheduled to close on June 11. 

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David Price's complete game shuts down Baltimore's offense

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USA TODAY Sports

David Price's complete game shuts down Baltimore's offense

BOSTON -- One strike away from a four-hit shutout, David Price happily settled for a complete game and his strongest outing of the season.

Price struck out eight and held Baltimore to five hits, including two in the ninth when the Orioles broke up the shutout before the Boston left-hander finished them off in a 6-2 victory for the Red Sox on Thursday night.

"He was amazing," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "He was outstanding. You saw it. Bad swings, up, down, in and out, changeup, cutter, sinkers ... that was fun to watch."

J.D. Martinez hit a two-run homer in the first, and Xander Bogaerts homered with two on during a four-run fifth, giving Price more than enough cushion against the struggling Orioles.

Price (4-4) struck out eight and didn't walk a batter while winning consecutive starts for the first time this season. He cruised through the first eight innings before Andrew Susac led off the ninth with a double, the first Baltimore player to reach second base in the game.

Manny Machado spoiled the shutout bid with a two-out homer, but Price finished off Baltimore on Jonathan Schoop's pop-up to center as the Red Sox improved to 4-0 against Baltimore by taking the makeup game that was rained out on Patriots' Day.

"They're a free-swinging team," said Price, who threw just 95 pitches. "You can go out there and do that or you can go out there for three innings and give up a bunch of runs."

Danny Valencia had a pair of hits for the punchless Orioles, who have lost three of four and have the second-fewest wins in the American League. Valencia nearly had a double in the fifth, but got thrown out at second by left fielder Andrew Benintendi, one of several strong defensive plays that helped Price go the distance.

Hanley Ramirez also caught a foul pop on the top step of Boston's dugout in the second and Mookie Betts ran down a fly ball that was headed to the wall in right.

"The defensive plays that I had today, it makes everything a lot easier," Price said.

Kevin Gausman (3-3) went 4 2/3 innings for Baltimore, allowing six runs and eight hits while striking out six and walking two. He was pulled after Bogaerts drove a high fastball out to left with two men on during Boston's four-run fifth.

"We just got into some sticky situations where we just had to dig ourselves out of a hole and we just couldn't," Susac said.

The Orioles also weren't happy with the strike zone, which Susac said forced Gausman to throw some pitches the Red Sox pounced upon.

Manager Buck Showalter agreed with his catcher.

"I'm very biased, but I didn't think he got a fair shake tonight," Showalter said. "There were a lot of pitches that could have and should have gone his way."

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