Here’s the first of my six-part “Countdown to the NHL Winter Classic” series.
It all began with the idea to contract Major League Baseball from a 30-team league to a 28-team league in 2002. The Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos were originally the two teams to cease operations, but since the Minneapolis Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission won an injunction to keep the Twins playing at the Metrodome, contraction did not occur. With contraction not an option to save the struggling Expos, MLB was forced to find a city for the Expos to relocate to. In the end, thanks to a 28-1 vote by the other MLB team owners on September 29, 2004, the Montreal Expos were officially relocated to Washington, D.C. The one owner that said no to the relocation of the Expos to Washington was Beltway rival Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who famously said that “There are no baseball fans in Washington, D.C.”.
For the first time since 1972, when the second incarnation of the Washington Senators went west to become the Texas Rangers, professional baseball was back in America’s national capital. When it came to naming the new team, Senators was not an option, because the Rangers still owned the rights to the Senators name, which included the “Curly W” mark that is now the team’s primary logo. Well, the Rangers gave the “Curly W” back to Washington, but not the team name. The team was officially named the Nationals prior to the 2005 season, as an homage to the first professional baseball team in Washington which played there from 1901-1956 before changing their name to the first incarnation of the Washington Senators and then moving to Minnesota four years later to become the Twins.
When Ted Lerner became the owner of the Washington Nationals in 2006, his first major job hire was Stan Kasten as team president. Kasten previously built the Atlanta Braves into the powerhouse team that won 14 straight division championships from 1991-2005. “The Plan” that he used to make the Nats the team that it is right now was through player development through drafting, player performance in the minor leagues, and where players “fit in” the Nationals style of play. They wanted to find an pitching ace? Look at Stephen Strasburg. They wanted to find a franchise player? Look at Bryce Harper.