Field of dreams

John McCaslin
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Posted: Oct 14, 2004 12:00 AM

I recall being both happy and sad on Sept. 30, 1971. I witnessed Frank Howard, aka the "Gentle Giant" and "Hondo," hit his 237th home run as a Washington Senator. Then, three innings later, I waved goodbye to a team that, as a youngster growing up during a troubled time in this city, I'd come to rely on.

I can't imagine how the old-timers must have felt, the long-suffering Washington baseball fans who faithfully stuck by the Senators for so many years. Team owner and ultimate stealer Bob "Boob" Short declined to show his face the last time the Nats took the field at RFK Stadium.

In 1991, I wrote that the Baltimore Orioles' final game at Memorial Stadium was a sellout, even though the Birds were moving only across town. It's a shame, because for all the good the Senators brought to this city, they never had the support they deserved.

In fact, only 18,460 showed up to watch the Senators play ball that final night, and 4,000 of those were gate-crashers who refused to put another dollar into the Boob's pockets.

I was fortunate that my father introduced me to the Senators at a very young age. We sat in the upper deck above left field - not the most expensive seats in the house, but to me there were none better.

From there, I watched Ken McMullen tag third to complete the most incredible triple play a boy could ever see. I'll never forget the night a New York Yankee hit a long, towering shot destined to clear the right-field fence, only the ball - and pigeon - dropped like bricks as a bewildered Lee Maye looked on in disbelief.

There was Casey Cox throwing curves to Paul Casanova, Mike Epstein snagging line drives down the first-base line, Tim Cullen and Ed Brinkman trapping runners between bases, and Del Unser swiping homers off the top of the center-field fence.

But no player roused the crowd more than Hondo, who aimed each of his mighty homers for the Anacostia River. Howard hit 44 home runs in both the 1968 and 1970 seasons, leading the league, and I consider myself lucky to have seen many of them. I would dare pitchers to throw Hondo the "blooper," because when he wasn't fooled you could kiss the ball goodbye.

Howard was very friendly to little people like me, which I knew from staring up at him on several occasions. Not far from my home stood the George Mason Hotel, which, like the Senators, is gone now. Every six months or so, manager Ted Williams and other baseball greats would gather there for receptions, and the doorman would allow my friends and me to go as far as the buffet line with our autograph books.

I still look at my faded green book to this day to see names like Joe DiMaggio, Joe Garagiola and Harmon Killebrew. I was just as proud to walk away with Shelby Whitfield's autograph, the old radio voice of the Senators who brought the games - and thousands of Herby's Ford commercials (they're gone now, too) - into my bedroom until the wee hours of the morning.

Dick Bosman, whose autograph I snagged twice, was starting pitcher in that final game against the Yankees. Three home runs were hit off the pitcher before he was pulled in the fifth inning, with the Senators trailing 5-1. Bosman, more than anybody, wanted the win, and his head hung low as he walked off the mound. (Little did he know he had yet to pitch his best game ever - a no-hitter. He did so in a Cleveland Indians uniform on July 19, 1974, against Oakland.)

Soon, it was the bottom of the sixth, and Howard was standing tall at the plate facing Yankees southpaw Mike Kekich when the incredible happened. Kekich - who later told Evening Star sportswriter Dick Heller (now with The Washington Times) that he "felt sorry for the fans" - threw Howard a straight pitch. Hondo accepted the gift, smacking a trademark shot nearly to my seat above left field. The emotional crowd went crazy, drawing Howard out of the dugout for the first time in seven years. The tearful Hondo threw a kiss - and his helmet - into the circus.

"The umpires would never have permitted the game to be continued past Howard's homer on an ordinary night," the Evening Star wrote the next day. "The outfield was covered with confetti. Trash littered the field. But this night was something special. A faithful American League city was losing its team. As long as the fun was relatively clean, the umpires were patient."

But the fans' patience would run out. With one out left to go in the top of the ninth, and the Senators leading 7-5, hundreds stormed the field, snatching everything not nailed down - even the turf. The game ended in a forfeit, the first in the majors in 17 years.

Washington, in a much different way, remains a troubled city today. But thanks to its loyal fans, we once again have a team - the former Montreal Expos - that will need our support. Maybe even Hondo will come back to RFK and take the first swing.

'WEASEL' EXTERMINATOR

Children's Defense Fund (CDF) President Marian Wright Edelman will bring her anti-George W. Bush message to the National Cathedral in Washington on Thursday, Oct. 28 - five days before Election Day.

Edelman charges that the Bush White House co-opted CDF's trademarked words "Leave No Child Behind" and is using them over and over again to cover up what she calls unjust budget and tax policies that hurt children.

"Our nation's moral compass needs resetting," Edelman told worshippers Sunday at Riverside Church in New York City and St. Matthew African Methodist Episcopal Church in Orange, N.J.

"If you believe it's all right for our leaders to impose budget cuts on poor children in order to give massive tax breaks and subsidies to millionaires and powerful corporations, then stay home and don't vote.

"There are some big weasels eating away at America's Constitution and eating away at America's professed values of freedom and justice. Unless we name them and challenge them, they will destroy our nation's soul and our children's future."

VOTE GLOBAL

A voter-education campaign by the clothing giant Patagonia has resorted to a 1983 photo of a stark timber clear-cut site in Canada to ask American citizens to "vote the environment" on Nov. 2.

But critics point out that the practice of clear-cutting forests on federal land in the United States was phased out by President Bush's father, President George Bush, in the early 1990s.

The picture in question, taken by Joel W. Rogers and sold through stock-photo agency Corbis, lists the location as Lyell Island in British Columbia, Canada. Patagonia's ad campaign features the photo of the mountain, half of which is devoid of trees, and says "your vote could finish the job."

"The environment is in crisis. This November 2, how we vote could determine whether American children will, by the time they reach middle age, face life on a dying planet. We can do better. But we don't have much time. Register. Get informed. Vote the environment November 2," the ad states.

Critics say the company, which donates thousands of dollars to environmental groups like Earth First! and the Ruckus Society, is meant to paint the current administration as destroyers of the environment.

"(Sen. John) Kerry supporters will do just about anything, from a fake memo to a 21-year-old photo taken in Canada," says Chris West, vice president of the American Forest Resource Council.

Says another observer of the ad: "Environmentalists used to say 'stumps don't lie,' but now the liars are stumping."

Reached at the company's California headquarters, Eve Bould, Patagonia's director of communications, told The Beltway Beat: "We selected the image as a representation of environmental degradation, rather than as a comment on a particular locale."

She said Patagonia views the photo as "an iconic image of the damage our society can cause" on a global basis.

HEARTY HEMP

No sooner did the Bush administration decide in recent days not to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court's unanimous 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling of February that hemp foods should be legal for sale and consumption, than manufacturers began lining up to peddle hemp products at this week's food expo at the Washington Convention Center.

The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) says there is now no question that it has won its three-year case against the Drug Enforcement Administration, which sought to ban hemp-seed and hemp-oil foods. The court basically ruled that hemp seeds were as safe for human consumption as poppy seeds.

In fact, HIA Executive Director Candi Penn says Americans looking for healthy alternative sources of omega-3 because of trace mercury in fish and fish-oil supplements can find it in hemp food. The big question now is whether U.S. farmers will be allowed to start growing hemp for industrial purposes.

Alexis Baden-Mayer, director of government affairs for Vote Hemp, says the U.S. marketplace is currently supplied by hemp seed grown and processed in Canada and Europe.

"We will now work to convince Congress it is time for the U.S. to again allow American farmers to grow industrial hemp and participate in this lucrative growth market," she says.