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"It is a long, long season."

Those were the words of Frank Robinson following the Nats' home-opening, 7-1 loss to the Mets, but he could just as well have been making a loose prediction of what is to come. At the very least, while I barely saw, heard, or followed a moment of today's defeat (owing to "contractual obligations," one might say), it is not difficult to perceive that the effort was wholly lackluster.

When you look back at the first tenth of your season, with full knowledge that barely a fifth of that tenth was played at home, you certainly do not want to see a third of that home slate tossed away in a blowout loss.

Or, to put it another way, yesterday I noted that the Nats face the prospect of digging a significant hole in their April dates (13 out of the first 16 on the road) without playing all that badly. Of course, they could also do so playing as badly as they did today. At any rate, this is what the Nats face the rest of the month:

Current record: 2-6

Two more vs. Mets
Three at Marlins
Three at Phillies
Three vs. Atlanta
Three vs. Cincinnati
Four at St. Louis

Reasonable minds could quibble with a game here or a game there, but something on the order of a 10-16 April is entirely realistic.

From there? It depends on what your expectations are. One the one hand, baseball's schedule is zero-sum; if you play a heavy slate of road games early, you have the opportunity to regain your bearings at home later on. If the expectation is something in between mediocrity and pseudo-respectability, on the other hand, is the road to 75 to 78 wins all that gripping and suspenseful?

Please understand that I am not advocating that one lose interest in the Nats. Why would I? Verily, I may be verbose, but I'm not stupid. I've expended eleventy billion words on this team over the past sixteen or so months, and I'll probably expend eleventy billion more before I'm done with this blogging thing. This is my team, your team, our team.

However, at some point---mid-May or late July---it'll occur to us that watching Royce Clayton scoop up grounders or Ramon Ortiz labor through six innings, or Felix Rodriguez try to set up a win is something just short of entirely pointless. At that point, we'll see that desperate bargain-bin acquisitions designed to fill out the roster will be relics of an era past in the face of a real owner and new management.

See? Hope for the future.

* * * *

That reminds me: today was a half-assed sham.

I mean no disrespect to Vice President Cheney, and I am serious about that. But his selection as first pitch tosser was the functional equivalent of relying on Royce Clayton as a stopgap shortstop. It's unfulfilling, and it reminds us of what the real show truly is.

Simply stated, Major League Baseball should have selected and ushered out the new owner---Lerner, Malek, even Smulyan; it doesn't really matter at this point---to whip up a celebration in front of a jubilant and fanatically emancipated home crowd. Instead, MLB's overlords treated us to a thoroughly pro forma first pitch, made entertaining only because lots of people were disrespectful.

Answer: This person was the first vice president since Humphrey to throw out a first pitch at a Washington season opener.

Question: Who the hell cares?

Again, no disrespect to Mr. Cheney intended. But come on. Mr. Selig, give us our owner.

* * * *

As a reminder of what it was like last year, when the stadium was both full and full of anticipation:

"And here, to throw out that same ball, to mark a new era of Washington baseball, the President of the United States."

Bush was true to his word. He hurled the ball confidently, and, had a right-handed hitter stood at the plate, it would have been high and inside. Schneider caught it. Flashbulbs popped everywhere. . . .

It was that kind of night, newcomers learning from the oldtimers that this is what it used to be like, that the seats swayed during the glory days of football's Redskins, when the eastern edge of Capitol Hill was the place to be. Glory days? This was one glorious day indeed. . . .

Then came perhaps the most beautiful sound of the night. Those 44,000 who had waited for baseball, who had waited through political haggling and impasses and arguments, got together on one thing. They booed [at Arizona reliever Lance Cormier, who hit Vinny Castilla---needing a single for the cycle---with a pitch]. They booed loud. They booed hard. They booed long. . . . So the boos came down, and the Nationals smiled.

---Barry Svrluga, National Pastime, pp. 127-28.