John Donovan
Friday April 15th, 2005

WASHINGTON -- On an unseasonably warm Wednesday morning here, I drove down to what is supposed to become the site of the new ballpark for the Nationals, on the north shore of the Anacostia River just a few blocks south of the Capitol.

Early estimates have the ballpark project coming in somewhere between an eye-popping $500-$600 million. That means, of course, that if this thing is ever built (it's supposed to be ready by the start of the 2008 season) the bill probably will be somewhere in the nasty neighborhood of $1 billion.

By the looks of the streetscape around the planned ballpark -- a place only a founding mother could love -- it could take every dime of that.

New ballparks, as citizens everywhere know, are lauded as economic sparkplugs, the answer for big-league city blight. The idea is that restaurants and bars will flock to open shop next to the park, residential projects and green space will follow, and in a few years, the asphalt plants and adult bookstores and rotting warehouses that once dotted the section of town will long be gone.

The problem is, as many studies attest, it mostly doesn't work that way. Ballparks come at a great cost, and the ensuing economic boom in the area often doesn't measure up. It's why many cities finally balked at putting the onus on taxpayers for stadiums. It's why D.C. Council Chair Linda Cropp is trying to get more private funding for this ballpark.

Whether a new stadium ever comes about here, and what the price tag eventually will be, still is a mystery. The Council continues to scrap over a financing plan. A new owner, yet to be determined, still has to have a say.

And, if the park is built, any economic life it may offer for this roughshod area of D.C. may take years.

The moral of this story is be careful where you put your ballpark. Cleveland and Baltimore did it the right way; a few other places didn't. Plan ahead. Watch the costs and share them, too. That way, everybody has a stake in making the thing work.

Let's get on with your regularly scheduled E-Bag, where we talk about just about everything but the Nationals.

Saying Jeff Weaver can win 20 games this year "with a little luck and a little offense" may be the most singularly ignorant and ludicrous statement I've ever read. Anywhere. Where have you been for three years? I was happy the Yankees picked up Weaver a couple of years back. I liked his stuff, I liked how he wasn't afraid to drill an opponent and stick around for the fight afterward (unlike that head-hunting punk Pedro Martinez). But it's apparent that Weaver is a mental midget with no heart. If he finishes anywhere near the top of the Cy Young voting this (or any other subsequent) year, I will buy you a case of your favorite beer! -- Frank D. Cedo, White Plains, N.Y.

Frank, who the heck wrote that? OK, OK. Truth is, despite his last dud of an outing, I'm still on the Weaver bandwagon (where an upgrade to a relatively empty first class can be had for a bargain). Look up his quality starts from last year. Look at his stuff. Look at the innings he had last year and his record despite the abysmal run support. I said he was a longshot for the Cy, but I do think he has the stuff for it. And the mental stuff you talk about ... he's way past that. Check him out.

Weaver for the NL Cy Young? Two conditions: Pedro Martinez and Jason Schmidt have off-years. Martinez looks ready to return to form, so let's see if his arm holds. If the Giants had a closer the past two seasons, Schmidt would have won a lot more than 35 games. -- Eric Jensen, La Jolla, Calif.

Those guys and Roger Clemens definitely are the frontrunners. I was looking for dark horses. Let me throw out two more names: Florida's Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis, neither of whom have allowed a run in their first two starts.

Why do people get up in arms over fans booing Mariano Rivera at the Stadium? Think about it for a minute. They cheer him because he does well. They stand and stomp for him because he is exceptional. So it stands to reason that they sit in stunned silence when he drops back from exceptional to normal (i.e., blowing a postseason save or two or three), and it is completely reasonable for them to boo when he disappoints them with regularity, as fans perceive at this point in the year. There is no heinous crime here. No one is above being booed. Booing isn't throwing stuff at him (see: Yankee fans and Dave Winfield) or spitting at him (see: Yankee fans at every Boston game before last year). -- Barry Spiegel, Peoria, Ariz.

Interesting take, Barry. Not that I want to, but it'd be hard to argue your point. The problem is that booing one day and cheering the next makes fans look fickle.

Why is everyone dumping on Rivera? It took the Sox like 150 Rivera appearances before they finally started to figure him out. Just like the Yankees started to own Pedro after about 50 starts. How can anyone forget the game was over when Rivera came in? Or that Pedro had a 17 K, one-hit performance at Yankee Stadium? How quickly we forget (or use one or two instances to forget the entire past). -- Peter George, Boston

I guess Barry's point is that fans don't necessarily forget. They just don't dole out their applause based on past performance. Yankees fans are aware of what Rivera has done for the team. But if he's not cutting it lately, get ready for the ol' Bronx cheer. Hey, it's a tough crowd.

When will the A's look to move Barry Zito? He would be the perfect No. 2 or No. 3 starter the Mets need. If the Mets can send Mike Cameron (and pay his salary for this and next season), whom Billy Beane is a big fan of, to Oakland for Zito, why not? -- Dan Gallagher, Wilmington, N.C.

Congratulations on being the first repeat questioner of the year. We've already heard whispers of moving Zito. But Beane won't move him -- won't even consider it, I think -- unless the A's fall hopelessly out of contention or Zito becomes hopelessly inept. I don't expect either will happen any time soon, certainly not before the trade deadline.

What's up with all the Mets hate? I am surprised the Mets started 0-5 but the first two games were very winnable (bullpen blew it) and the Mets now have won three in a row playing good fundamental baseball. I personally think the Mets are a playoff-caliber team and, once they get rolling, will be a tough team to go up against. -- Eddie, Brooklyn, N.Y.

See, Eddie, I wasn't hating on the Mets at all. I like Carlos Beltran and Martinez. I like Tom Glavine and David Wright. I like Cliff Floyd. I really like Willie Randolph's attitude. The Mets will be better than a lot of people realize. They can be a .500 team. That's not nearly good enough in the NL East. But it's certainly not hating.

What is it with baseball players and their constant need to remind us they are human beings? Your Willie Randolph quote was the most recent, but I see it constantly. I know we are all worried about the effects of steroids, but do clueless major-leaguers really think we forget they are also human? -- Matt Gamewell, Chicago

Maybe. But it's OK. I think players sometimes forget fans are human, too.

In your April 4 column, you state, "Yeah, Anaheim and L.A. are two different cities and all, 25 or 30 miles apart. But we all know that they're all part of that Southern California sprawl. Face it. Live with it. It's OK." By that logic, you should roll the Padres in, too, since that SoCal sprawl starts in Tijuana and doesn't stop until Santa Barbara, and goes east to Riverside/San Bernardino. L.A. and Anaheim are as different as New York and New Jersey, and no one seems to want to "relocate" the Nets or the Devils based on artificial marketing concerns that amount to a load of nonsense. -- Brant Guillory, Columbus, Ohio

I refuse to back off the premise that L.A. and Anaheim are part of the greater Los Angeles metro area. Hoboken, N.J., in my mind, is part of the New York City area, too, and Covington, Ky., is part of the Cincinnati market and Arlington is part of Dallas. I want to point out, too, that neither L.A. nor Anaheim is talking about moving. Each team drew more than 3 million fans last season. But, yeah, they'd both like bigger slices of that already ample L.A. pie.

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