Unser bridges gap between old, new
Ex-Senator, Phillie throws out first pitch on Monday
PHILADELPHIA -- Del Unser had carved a nice Major League career out of his modest skills. He could make contact at bat, he could go get the ball in the outfield, he could last 15 seasons.For him, it started with being a first-round draft choice in 1966, and began to wind down with a couple of pinch-hits in the 1980 World Series. But none of Unser's accomplishments were as significant as they became in perspective on a sun-splashed Monday afternoon when he stood alone in the middle of Citizens Bank Park's infield, the symbol of transition.
Wearing an unbuttoned jersey with "Senators" across the chest, Unser wound up and delivered to Todd Pratt, his ceremonial first pitch giving birth and rebirth. He signaled a start to the 2005 season, and to the first day of the rest of the Washington Nationals' life."I'm almost speechless about the situation. It makes me feel real good," he said earlier. The Phillies needed someone relevant to help fulfill their roles as hosts to the Nationals' inaugural game, and they could not have found anyone more fitting than Unser, now a scout with Philadelphia.
Even though Tommy McCraw, the man who delivered the very last hit in Senators history, sat on Washington's bench as hitting coach.
Unser had been the 18th overall pick in the '66 First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Senators, with whom he played out the D.C. string in four seasons through 1971. He bookended his career with four seasons in Philadelphia.In between, he played with three teams -- including the Montreal Expos. "I touched all the bases," said Unser, who hit .258 during his versatile career. "All of these things came together at diferrent points of my career. "I've touched a lot of people, and I've met a lot of people. You never know how many lives we touched in Washington, even though we weren't a contending club."
Unser foresees a bright, exciting future for the Nationals."Washington is a fantastic place, and we're going to find out it will be a great baseball city. Everything happens there. You're on top of everything happening not only in the U.S., but the world. It's a neat place, if you pay attention to something other than baseball. "They've got the nucleus of a good club, and I hope they do well there. I wish them the best." Not on this day, however. "I work for the Phillies," Unser said with a twinkle in his eye. "I want to see us win."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.