VIERA, Fla. - Frank Robinson clasps his hands behind his head, leans back on his desk chair and begins telling reporters about the progress of a relief pitcher when he's interrupted by laughter.
In the room connecting to Robinson's spring training office, the Washington
Nationals' coaching staff is yukking it up, carrying on so loudly that it can
be heard through the closed door.
It's a joke that resonates with those who have spent some time around
Robinson this spring.
As much as the Hall of Fame slugger and Nationals manager has tired of the
issue, it won't go away. Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News have
featured it. Newsweek and Time have set up interviews with Robinson to discuss
Next to performance-enhancing drugs and congressional hearings, no topic
has been exhausted more this spring than the change of address and change of
uniforms for Robinson and his players, the nomadic squad formerly known as the
After three years as a ward of baseball, which included 43 "home" games in
San Juan, Puerto Rico, the past two seasons, the team has officially moved to
the nation's capital, where it will play at renovated Robert F. Kennedy
Stadium for at least three seasons.
"It certainly is going to be more exciting," said Robinson, a former
Orioles star and manager who became the Expos' manager in 2002, when Major
League Baseball took over the team. "We're looking forward to it. It's not
just me; it's the players also."
Nationals catcher Brian Schneider had spent all five of his major league
seasons in Montreal, where the fan base dwindled from sporadic to embarrassing
by the time baseball eventually pulled the plug.
The lack of support was tough to take, Schneider said.
"When you go into other cities - you go into Philly, you go into Atlanta -
you see these guys with a full house every night," Schneider said. "As a
visitor, you know what it is like when we screw up or when the other team does
something good and how much louder it gets. The crowd can get you a little
more pumped up for the game or keep the momentum going for you.
"We haven't had that, and it is going to be a good change for us."
Robinson vividly remembers a turning point in his traveling Expos odyssey:
June 12, 2003.
The Expos were in second place in the National League East, had won six in
a row and were playing an interleague series finale against the Mariners in
Seattle. The Expos had won the first two games, even after an exhausting
flight from Puerto Rico to Seattle on their open date.
In the middle of a tight, low-scoring contest on the third day after the
flight, Robinson surveyed his troops and then turned to his bench coach.
"I said, `The air has gone out.' You could just see it. You could feel it,"
The Expos lost that game, 1-0, and then dropped seven of their next nine.
"You could see the [travel] starting to take its toll on the players,"
Robinson said. "And we didn't recover."
The Expos finished fourth that season, despite winning 83 games - the same
number they won in 2002 when they placed second. Last year, the lame-duck
Expos finished last in the division with a 67-95 record and had the
second-worst home record (35-45) in the league.