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When Baseball Returned to RFK Stadium in 1987

On April 5th, 1987, a charity exhibition game between the world champion New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies brought baseball back to Washington, DC after 16 years. Read the story of the cold and wet game at RFK Stadium and Washington's desire for a team.
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RFK Stadium
RFK Stadium

Early GoDC reader and now occasional contributor, Jason, wrote a great post about the sad decline of the last local franchise to hold the Senators name. The city flirted with bringing a team back, including the Padres before the 1974 season (can you imagine Tony Gwynn being our guy?).

Baseball did return to Washington a long time ago. Okay, it was only an exhibition game, but people packed the stands in RFK to see what the city had been missing for 16 years, since Bob Short screwed this town out of their team.

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Washington Post MCI Classic - April 5th, 1987
Washington Post MCI Classic – April 5th, 1987

Maybe this is a taste of irony because it’s two teams that we highly dislike. On April 5th, 1987, the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets, fresh off of a wild World Series victory (poor Buckner).

The day of the game, the Washington Post predicted a cold and wet match-up between the teams in the charity exhibition for the Metro Police Boys and Girls Club.

It’s baseball, and it’s more. When the world champion New York Mets and the earnest Philadelphia Phillies meet today at 1:30 p.m. at RFK Stadium, the score won’t be as important as the actual attendance figure. This is equal parts sporting event and metropolitan-area-wide referendum. It’s a pitch that won’t be served up from the mound.

Going on 16 years after it left for Texas, baseball is back. Unfortunately, winter is too, but organizers believe the two can coexist for a day at RFK Stadium.

The overnight forecast was for a 50 percent chance of rain and temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees. Organizers will wait hours, if necessary, to get the game in, to show the world that 45,614 (or some fraction thereof) of the citizens will sit in the rain all day to show how much they want a baseball team for their own. And this in the one city in the country that had higher television ratings for a Redskins’ Monday Night Football game than for the seventh game of the World Series.

Washington is not a sports town? Please. We have just been painfully deprived of a team for too long — when we do have a team that we’re crazy about, we are deprived of good ownership (i.e., Dan Snyder). Leonsis, right now you’re the model owner.

Game day at RFK was pretty bleak, with the temperature at 38 degrees and snow flurries when the teams were being introduced.

Officially, the world champion New York Mets defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 1-0, on a one-hitter by Mets starter Sid Fernandez in front of a surprisingly large and playful crowd of 38,437. There were only 7,177 no-shows from the sell-out crowd of 45,614, and that was considered rather remarkable by the players and the organizers of the exhibition game played on the grayest and most miserable of spring days.

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“From the players’ standpoint, the fans were lucky to get five innings from us,” said Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt, who stepped into the mucky batters’ box once, flied to right, and left the game after the third inning. “They got those five as a gift from us.”

The quality of baseball that returned to RFK was not the kind of baseball the Phillies and Mets likely will play Tuesday when they open the season. The five innings were played in slow motion, with hard-hit grounders rolling to a stop before they reached an infielder’s glove, with players running at half-speed.

It sounded like a terrible game, but well over a decade after having their (crappy) team ripped from them, we were thrilled to show Major League Baseball that we were ready and hungry for a new team.

It would take 18 more years before we had real Major League Baseball at RFK Stadium. It’s a tragedy that an entire generation of children grew up without their own team, but the team we have today is growing into one that we’ll all be telling stories about generations later — ah, remember the days of Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper?

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Ghosts of DC stories.