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National Pastime: Sports, Politics, and the Return of Baseball to Washington, D.C. Hardcover – March 28, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

BARRY SVRLUGA is a sports writer at the Washington Post and has written about sports for ten years for newspapers in New York, Maine, and North Carolina. He lives in Washington, D.C.

From The Washington Post

Most books about a year in a life of a baseball team try to hold you in suspense as the pennant race comes down to the wire. Even if you know the outcome, a skilled writer can keep you turning the pages. Barry Svrluga's National Pastime, the story of the Washington Nationals' inaugural season, holds readers in suspense twice.

The second time comes in the second half of the book during the team's gutsy showing in the 2005 National League East pennant race. (The Nationals finished last in a tough division, but still had a respectable 81-81 mark.) But the first and more exhilarating race was the effort to get the Nationals to Washington and on the field in time for opening day, signaling the return of major league baseball to the nation's capital after the Senators moved to Texas in 1972. This is the story that you didn't read in the sports pages outside Washington or see on ESPN.

It's doubtful that many of the fans who watched Cuban-born right-hander Livan Hernandez throw out the first pitch in the Nationals' first game last year had an inkling of how close the team's season came to not happening, or at least not happening in Washington. The former Montreal Expos began their existence in Washington with literally nothing but a new name. "When a new administration takes over a team," writes Svrluga, "the game plan is relatively clear. But here, there was no infrastructure, no one with prior knowledge of how things work, of whom to call in the community. Where in the world do you start?"

Where indeed? The team, which was (and still is) owned by Major League Baseball, couldn't promise the new employees that they would have a job in six months if the team was sold. Job applicants had to be sorted through at a frenetic pace. A woman who worked for a cable TV station heard about the Nationals' job openings through a contact at a sports consulting firm; two days after her inquiry, she was offered the job of director of marketing and promotions. She took the position not knowing if she had a future with the team, but "it seemed exciting, like an adventure."

It was most certainly that. Before a single pitch was thrown in the Nationals' temporary home, RFK Stadium, the team had generated nearly as much ink as Washington's darlings, the NFL's Redskins. A few months later, Linda Cropp, chairman of the District of Columbia City Council, after enduring a maelstrom of criticism for her opposition to a new stadium paid for solely by public money, declared, "I had no idea it was going to be the level of controversy that it was. I had no idea the storm that was a-brewin'." That storm isn't over yet: Plans for the new stadium were not announced until just last month, and $535 million in revenue bonds to finance the ballpark had yet to go on sale as of this writing. Despite the off-the-field turbulence that always loomed in the background, the Nationals, led by their hard-nosed manager, Hall of Fame outfielder Frank Robinson, took the field for 2005 and won both the respect of the league and the affection of their fans. "We are witnessing the birth of America's team," said Nationals vice president/GM Jim Bowden, midway through the 2005 season. That might have been an exaggeration, but a look at the Nats roster, featuring players from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Korea as well as the United States, suggests that "the United Nations team" might have been more accurate.

The Nationals' gritty debut season allows Svrluga to wrap up his twin story lines with as much ease as Mariano Rivera closing a game for the Yankees. But optimism for the current season should be guarded. Svrluga cautions, "Part of the process . . . for Washingtonians as they embrace baseball again was to remember that far too often, success is offset by pain." When I was a kid, we always described Washington as "first in war, first in peace, last in the American League." The Nationals began life last in the National League East, but they inspired a better book in one season than the Senators did in 71 of them.

Reviewed by Allen Barra
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (March 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385517858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385517850
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #413,160 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By L. Trachtman on September 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Many of us non-native Washingtonians see the Nationals as simply an overdue return of baseball to the DC area. But few of us are really privy to an inside behind the scenes view of the agony and ecstasy experienced by the die hard fans and baseball professionals who lived through this experience. If you thought baseball was just a game you won't after reading this compelling tale of just how DC came to have a new baseball team. If you want to understand more than just the current standings or statistics of your favority team and really want to know how the business of baseball is "played" grab a copy of this one. You'll find it an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Arthur L. Belcher, Jr. on January 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
For a Washington baseball fan like me, this book is a must-have, for those who want to read a very good account of the events in the return of baseball to the Nation's Capital, this book is the best that I have seen about it.

I am a longtime fan of Washington baseball, loving the Washington Senators in the 1960's, and have been studying the history of baseball in D. C. for years. I attended the 2005 Opening Night game that I had looked forward to for 33 years, and also many other games since then. Barry Svrluga gives a very interesting inside account of the July 5 game when Jose Guillen threw the ball over the catcher's head and all the way to the backstop, I had wondered what on earth was going on that night, I saw that happen in person. The accounts were interesting, and told a story that is not obvious to the average baseball fan who does not know what goes on behind-the-scene.

A very good book, I highly recommend it!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LW on June 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've been a Nationals fan since the team moved to Washington and followed them closely during the first season. This book gives an insightful perspective from someone who was close to the action and knew the entire cast of characters personally. There are lots of great stories and anecdotes throughout the book. It's a fun read!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first year of the Expos to the Nationals was put together quickly. The 2005 Nationals were a solid team and you get an understanding of how Hall of Famer Frank Robinson managed the team and kept them that way.
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Recently read National Pastime. I was in DC back in 2005 when the Washington Nationals had that first great season. Reading this book years later was very entertaining and brought back good memories.
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