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Nationals scramble to get ready



Published: Sat, February 12, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



While players prepare in Florida, final details are GM's duty in Washington.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a temporary office in the nation's capital, the president of the Washington Nationals is trying to complete a to-do list 65 items long, a task that has become more maddening by the red tape he seems to encounter at every turn.

"What will be a miracle," Tony Tavares said, "is if I make it to opening day without assaulting a lawyer."

In more permanent accommodations in Viera, Fla., the interim general manager has spent three months trying to improve a last-place team with a limited budget.

"You never have enough time," Jim Bowden said. "I didn't start until Nov. 2, so you're behind a little bit, but we're very excited."

Ready or not, the Nationals are about to take the field. Pitchers and catchers report to Viera on Tuesday, followed five days later by the rest of the roster. The ongoing logistics scramble in Washington -- further complicated by a lost week in December when city politics almost derailed the move -- will soon lead a parallel existence with the pop of mitts and other baseball sounds.

"I kept having faith it would happen," Bowden said. "Even when we had that little setback in December, I still thought at the end of the day that everyone would come together and do the right thing, and the right thing finally happened."

A new lineup

While the spring training complex is the same, as is much of the roster, there's a whole lot new for the former Montreal Expos. The era of living in limbo is finally over now that baseball has decided on a permanent home for the franchise, and a modest increase in the payroll has allowed Bowden to reverse the outward talent flow of the last few years.

"It's weird," closer Chad Cordero said, "because every time I turn on ESPN, I see the bottom line, and I see they just signed Vinny Castilla or Esteban Loaiza. It's definitely cool to see how they're trying to get all those guys. It'll be fun to go down to spring training and see all the new faces and put on the new uniforms and stuff."

Working with an absolute upper limit of $50 million -- up from last year's $43 million opening day roster but still low on the major league totem pole -- Bowden couldn't re-sign free agent Tony Batista, but he was able to snag third baseman Castilla and shortstop Cristian Guzman in free agency and work a trade for outfielder Jose Guillen.

"You don't have Cristian Guzman if it isn't for Washington, D.C.," Bowden said. "He signed here because he and his agent had the vision to know what this market was going to be, and they wanted to be a part of it. We don't make the Jose Guillen trade if it isn't for Washington, D.C."

A long to-do list

Now the players have to hope D.C. will be ready for them in April. The good news is that RFK Stadium is on pace for its overhaul to be completed on time to host an exhibition game April 3 and the home opener 12 days later. The bad news is that the team doesn't yet have a television deal, a mascot -- and a bunch of other things on Tavares' 65-item list.

"There's a litany of issues," Tavares said. "Locking down our budgets for game-day staff, deciding on how many ushers, how many ticket-takers, how many security guards. Who's the cleaning contract? Who's the parking contract? The concession deal? It's tedious kind of things, like getting our tax ID locally."

Still, there is confidence that everything on Tavares' list will get done in time for Washington's first baseball season since 1971 -- even if a few of the less important matters run a little behind schedule.

"I'm sure we're going to find stuff that will fall into that category," Uhlich said. "We're looking at it globally, but right now the focus is on that first weekend."




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