VIERA, Fla. -- Charlie Gibson has been here for Good Morning America, which tops Good Morning Rue de Sherbrooke. They have caps with a W very similar to the one on Ted Williams' cap. There's a DC cap, and the licensed stuff is so hot that the Washington Nationals right now are second only to the Red Sox in sales.
Brad Wilkerson models the hottest new threads in D.C.
What does that mean? MLB estimates that the best Yankee years produced post-World Series cap sales of 200,000. After the Red Sox beat the Cardinals, their cap sales were 1.3 million and still running -- with the Nationals on their tail.
"It is as if I got traded," catcher Brian Schneider said. "It's a whole new world. My career has started over again."
This is no slight at Montreal the city, but Major League Baseball imprisoned players the last few years, treating them like illegal aliens, shuttling them off to Puerto Rico and Mexico. "We once had an 11-hour trip from San Juan to Seattle," Schneider said. "We had to stop in Atlanta for fuel, then sit on the runway for two hours backed up in Hartsfield traffic. Unbelievable. Then we were in it two years ago and we weren't allowed to bring anyone up in September."
There was the time in 2001 when baseball originally planned to play on the Friday after the Sept. 11 attacks and the Expos were told they had to fly to New York and play at Shea Stadium. Player rep Javier Vazquez ran a team meeting in which the players voted to refuse to play that weekend. The NFL then changed its plans, and baseball followed suit.
It's as if their owners wanted them to lose, which at least four of them in the NL East did.
But now they have a freshly painted clubhouse, DC and W hats, bright-red uniforms and jackets and T-shirts. "This," Frank Robinson said, "is a lot better. This is going to be really good."
The Expos drew fewer home fans all season than the Red Sox and Yankees did in their 19 regular-season games against each other. The Nationals should draw at least three million.
"I got off the plane in Washington, and people are wearing Nationals gear," Schneider said. "They were selling Nationals stuff at Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers."
Leading the cheers is Jim Bowden, who has a lot of Bill and Mike Veeck running through his veins. Bowden grabbed the job on an interim basis, signed Vinny Castilla, Cristian Guzman and Esteban Loaiza and traded for Jose Guillen. "I don't think people realize how much baseball has been missed in Washington," Bowden said. "Everything we do is greeted with all kinds of response. It's fun."
Then why didn't he try to trade for Toronto pitcher David Bush?
"Hey, I tried to trade for Sammy Sosa because President Bush said that trading Sammy was the biggest mistake he ever made," Bowden said.
The Nationals' face is Brad Wilkerson, who hit 32 homers and had 73 extra-base hits. If Nick Johnson is healthy, he can hit, balanced by Guillen and Castilla.
"I'm just going to put on my answering machine, 'If you're calling about Wilkerson or Schneider, forget it,' " Bowden said. "Everyone asks for them, and they're not getting either one." That said, the GM would like to find one more solid bat for the middle of the order.
If the pitching holds up, the Nats will be right in the fight for the NL East level right behind the Marlins and Braves. Livan Hernandez annually leads the league in innings. Tony Armas is in his walk year, healthy and potentially a No. 2 starter. Then there's Loaiza, Zach Day, John Patterson, Tomo Ohka and Jon Rauch. Loaiza has been in the last two All-Star Games. Patterson has the ball coming out of his hand the way it did before he got hurt with Arizona. Ohka was solid two years ago.
And if Washington doesn't have five starters, Bowden will throw 22-year-old lefty Mike Hinckley into the mix after he went 11-4 at Brevard County and Harrisburg.
"There's a lot of enthusiasm around us," Wilkerson said. "But there's a renewed sense of dignity and spirit here because we are starting over."
"No one in Montreal had any idea who we were," Schneider said. "You never saw Expos stuff on the streets."
Here in Brevard County, Florida, they're calling out Brendan Harris, Tyrell Godwin and Chad Durbin by name, and asking for autographs.
"I liked Montreal," Hernandez said. "But baseball players like fans."
And being treated as a major league player.