Opener: Reliever Joe Grzenda and President Bush will link the old and new Washington teams on April 14.
By Jeff Barker
Baltimore Sun Staff
Originally published April 1, 2005
WASHINGTON - Relief pitcher Joe Grzenda never got to record the final out against the New York Yankees with two outs in the ninth inning of the final Washington Senators game in 1971. That's because fans stormed the RFK Stadium field in a mad dash for souvenirs with the Senators leading 7-5, and Washington had to forfeit the game.
But Grzenda has kept the baseball for all of these 34 years. And when the Washington Nationals play their first regular-season home game on April 14, Grzenda will be there with his ball. The Nationals invited Grzenda, 67, because they want to give him the opportunity to symbolically throw his final pitch. The idea is to stage an event that will allow the city to officially close the era of Senators baseball and open a new one with a new team. The tentative plan is for Grzenda to give the ball to President Bush, who is expected to deliver the first pitch and complete the inning Grzenda never got to finish - much as he wanted to.
Hoping to preserve some suspense, Nationals officials would not provide further details yesterday.
But Grzenda's expected appearance has not been a secret. There has been talk about it on Internet sites for months, as fans have speculated how Grzenda's appearance might unfold. "Joe Grzenda has my vote to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the 2005 season for the new Washington team!" one fan wrote recently on the Baseball Fever Web site. Grzenda was a journeyman pitcher who played for six clubs and started just three games during a career that lasted from 1961 through 1972. His career mark was 14-13, and 1971 was his best season as he recorded five wins and a 1.92 ERA. Grzenda, who lives in northeastern Pennsylvania, could not be reached for comment.
The notion that he should return to RFK Stadium came from his son, Joe Jr., and appeared in a Washington Post profile of the pitcher last October. "He'd throw a strike about 80 miles an hour," Joe Jr. told the newspaper.
The Nationals decided the pitch was a good idea.
The club also plans to invite back a number of other former Senators - including outfielders Frank Howard and Fred Valentine, shortstop Ed Brinkman and pitcher Jim Hannan - and introduce them to a sellout crowd at the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. "It's like I've been resurrected or something," said Hannan, 65.
The Senators played at RFK Stadium before becoming the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season. The Nationals are using the same newly renovated stadium for three years while a new stadium is built.
Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun