Nationals' merchandise sales are normal


WASHINGTON - Word that baseball in D.C. might be in jeopardy did not touch off a frenzy of Washington Nationals memorabilia buying yesterday.

Some of those who decided not to buy might be regretting it today, because at 6 p.m. yesterday, Major League Baseball ordered the team's business and promotional activities to cease until further notice.

Business during the afternoon hours at the Nationals Team Store outside RFK Stadium was steady but calm, after the D.C. Council on Tuesday attached a controversial amendment to its approval of a stadium funding plan that would require 50 percent private financing.

Most memorabilia buyers, such as Colien Hefferan of Falls Church, Va., said they were merely Christmas shopping. She purchased eight caps and one T-shirt.

"I'm Christmas shopping, but I thought this was a good day to make a commercial statement that we support baseball in D.C. It hadn't occurred to me that these might become collector's items," said Hefferan, 55. "I expected more people would be here to support the team, not because they'd be collectors coming in for unique items. That's not in the spirit of baseball."

Not everyone agreed with her.

"I'm here because I think it might have value, especially if the team never exists," said Jason Rich, 29, of Carroll County, an ardent baseball fan whose favorite teams are the Chicago White Sox and Orioles. "The stuff is expensive - $27 for a hat. But you never know. It could be selling on eBay next year for $100."

Rich works near the stadium and expected more people to be lining up to buy the memorabilia. He said he was disappointed the store was temporarily out of the type of red cap with the script "W" he wanted.

A colleague, Mike Tester, 38, of Montgomery County, echoed Rich's thinking about why he was buying.

"I wanted a keepsake that might be valuable someday," Tester said. "This would be a first as far as I know, if the team never plays here. If this team leaves now, D.C. will never get another team."

Most D.C. residents in the store seemed unconcerned about the possibility that the team might not stay.

"I don't think this will kill it," said Tim Phares, 50, of Laurel, a self-described huge baseball fan whose favorite team is the New York Yankees. He said he has never been to Camden Yards, in protest of the Orioles' opposition to baseball in D.C.

"I'm confident the financing will get worked out. Returning baseball to Washington is the smartest thing baseball ever did. The dumbest thing was waiting 33 years to do it."

Mary Withum, 43, of Potomac, owns a houseboat on the Anacostia River, site of the proposed stadium, and hoped to cruise up to the new stadium for parties. She said her neighbor, city activist John Capozzi, is leading the charge against the new stadium.

"I respect his opinions," Withum said, "but they won't lose this team."

Her 6-year-old daughter, Amanda, was wearing a pink Nationals T-shirt, and they had a bag with presents for Amanda's 6-year-old baseball-fanatic friend, Tyler.

More skeptical about the Nationals' chances for survival was Derek Larsen, 37, a sergeant in the D.C. police department and another Yankees fan who has never been to an Orioles game.

He bought two shirts and was prepared to return at 6 p.m. when a new cap shipment was expected.

"It's a shame about what has happened, because I was looking forward to working some games," Larsen said. "Now, I'll believe it when I see them playing."

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