Nationals honor Andre Dawson

One of the stranger pregame ceremonies you’re likely to see in baseball this year just wrapped up at Nationals Park a few minutes ago. The Nationals, a franchise that has spent the better part of five years minimizing its connection to the Montreal Expos, spent some time honoring Andre Dawson, a Hall of Famer who never played a game in Washington.

The ceremony felt at times like the nuptials for an arranged marriage. But the emotions involved in it were real. As Dawson briefly addressed the Nationals Park crowd, he wiped away tears.

Dawson, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in July, became something of a pioneer at Nationals Park on Tuesday. The team recognizes the Expos in its franchise records, but has otherwise made a greater effort to connect with the Washington Senators clubs of the past than the Expos.

When they debuted their 18-name Ring of Honor on Tuesday, Dawson was one of two Expos on it, along with Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter, who was on hand to help honor Dawson on Tuesday.

“For me, anytime someone extends that effort and pays homage to your career, it’s very gratifying,” Dawson said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that I had to play for that organization; I never played here. But I understand the history, and the connection, and I’m most grateful.”

Dawson recalled coming to Washington as a rookie in 1976, joining Willie Mays for a rally at RFK Stadium to bring baseball back to the District five years after the Senators had left for Texas. “I was in awe why there wasn’t baseball in the nation’s capital,” Dawson said. “And then to have it come back here when the team exited Montreal, I think it was a natural fit.”

The Nationals had a taped message from former Expos third baseman Tim Wallach, and former Expos (now Marlins) radio broadcaster Dave Van Horne was on hand to help honor Dawson, a Miami native who finished his career in Florida.

Their first significant step to recognize the Expos was received warmly by both men representing Montreal in the Ring of Honor.

“I know they initially have acknowledged and remembered the greats that were Washington Senators, and that’s understandable,” said Carter, who wasn’t aware he was on the Ring of Honor until he got to the park. “And some of the players from the Negro Leagues that have been recognized. And to be a part of that ring up there is something that’s very special. I don’t know if there’s an intention to do more. This is a start. There is a tie, I feel. There was 37 years on the field with the Expos, and that organization came here to Washington. They’re just going to expound on it and try to make it a better organization.”