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Being Washington, D.C.’s Team Has Its Perks

President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ first game of the season today, a ceremonial marking of Major League Baseball’s opening day. It’s a moment awash in the pomp and pageantry of our nation’s pastime, and got a mention from David Gregory (himself a new-ish fan of the NHL’s Washington Capitals) at the end of yesterday’s Meet the Press. Imagine what a moment it might be if the Nationals were less terrible.

Yes, over the last two years no team in baseball has a record of losing quite like the Nationals, who posted a 59-103 mark last season (good for last not only in their division but in all of the major leagues), following a 59-102 mark in 2008 (good for last not only in their division but in all of the major leagues). Even their uniforms occasionally missed the mark, as pictured at left. Yet here they are, getting the presidential treatment – and it’s not the first time, as then-President George W. Bush threw out the team’s first pitch of the year in 2005 and 2008 – all thanks to some smart franchise relocation. (Nothing like this would have happened back when the Nationals were still the Montreal Expos.)

The president also made an appearance in the announcing booth earlier this college basketball season during a Georgetown Hoyas home game in Washington. Unlike the Nationals game, the matchup that day (Georgetown vs. Duke, two marquee programs) would have stood out on its own, even had Obama not attended. Georgetown rose to the occasion much more than the Nationals (who lost 11-1 today), winning 89-77 that day.

The NFL’s Washington Redskins are more known these days for the free-spending ways of current owner Daniel Snyder, but their late ex-owner Jack Kent Cooke took full advantage of his team’s location, making his owner’s box the place to be at Redskins games. Explained Tony Kornheiser:

You would see them with him in the owner’s box on Sunday afternoons at RFK. Cabinet members. U.S. Senators. Justices. Ambassadors — folks who might not have opened their doors to him years ago when he was poor, selling encyclopedias door-to-door across his native Canada. But they were there on Sundays, attracted by the light, lined up like toy soldiers in a rich man’s den…I never saw a man more alive than Jack Kent Cooke in the owner’s box. What good is being rich and powerful if you can’t enjoy it? In that box Jack Kent Cooke threw his head back like Secretariat and snorted at the field.

Additionally, the old Redskins coach George Allen (father of the former Virginia senator of the same name) worked his town’s connections to the fullest, striking up a friendship with Richard Nixon. Supposedly, Allen once used a play suggested by Nixon during a playoff game – the play failed miserably, and Allen never used it again.

Failed presidential play suggestions aside, the pluses of playing in such close proximity to political power players seem to far outweigh the minuses – there’s too much potential exposure and hobnobbing to resist. But maybe, for the sake of the rest of us, President Obama could throw out someone else’s first pitch next year. Let’s see some improvement from the Nationals before we subject the entire nation to them.

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