Today in Nationals’ History: The Lerner family takes ownership of the Washington Nationals

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RFK

RFK Stadium on the evening of July 24, 2006, the first home game under Lerner family ownership.

On this day 10 years ago, the Washington Nationals announced the official transfer of ownership from Major League Baseball to an ownership group headed by Theodore N. Lerner and his son Mark D. Lerner, sons-in-law Edward L. Cohen and Robert K. Tanenbaum and their families.

At the time of the announcement, Managing Principal Owner Ted Lerner stated, “It has long been my dream to bring the national pastime back to my hometown, the nation’s capital. Now that it’s been realized, I plan on doing everything I can to make sure that this franchise becomes an international jewel for MLB, D.C. and the nation.”

We sat down with Nationals Principal Owner Mark D. Lerner, as he reflected on that special day a decade ago.

Could you describe the process of Major League Baseball handing over the team to you and your family?

It was a monumental task. Not only was our family taking over an entire organization, but we also were doing it in the middle of the season. It didn’t make things any easier that aspects of the team’s infrastructure were still based in Montreal. It took a number of years to really get our arms around it, hire the people we wanted and change the systems in place to ones we were comfortable with.

Lerner Family

The Lerner family, (from left to right) Edward L. Cohen, Debra Lerner Cohen, Theodore N. Lerner, Annette M. Lerner, Mark D. Lerner, Judy Lenkin Lerner, Robert K. Tanenbaum and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum, celebrate the opening of Nationals Park on March 29, 2008 before an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles.

What were some of the first changes made after your family became owners of the team?

We wanted to make sure that when fans walked through the gates of RFK Stadium they knew there was a change. We spent 10 days cleaning RFK Stadium before our first home game as owners of the team. Prior to the start of that game, my family and I stood in front of RFK Stadium to greet fans as they came through the main turnstiles. From that moment on, we weren’t looking back, we were looking forward.

We gathered all the ushers and employees who would have face-to-face interaction with our fans and I told them that they were the face of the franchise – the first people fans see when they arrive, and the last people they see on their way home. We wanted to ensure that going to the ballpark was a great experience.

We were excited about the opportunity to take the organization to new heights. Our goal was to create an organization with a tradition of excellence, both on and off the field. I feel we have accomplished this, but we will never stop trying to improve.

Could you describe the moment it really hit you that you owned a Major League Baseball franchise?

The real celebration was on the morning of May 3, 2006, when Commissioner Selig called my dad to tell us that we were selected to purchase the team over 12 other groups that were bidding for the franchise. It was a special moment for our entire family, especially my dad, and I’ll never forget where I was when we got the call.

That evening, we had a major press conference, the first one our family had ever participated in, followed by a groundbreaking ceremony for Nationals Park the next morning. It certainly was an amazing 24 hours for my family and me.

Mark and Theodore Lerner

(From left to right) Mark and Ted Lerner at the introductory press conference on May 3, 2006.

What is it like to own a team in your family’s hometown?

It is an incredible honor for our family. We had never done anything in the public eye like this before, but owning a baseball team in your hometown is a special opportunity.

We operate the Nationals for our fans. Our fan base has entrusted us to run the organization, and this trust is something that we take very seriously. It is our duty not only to provide first-class entertainment, but to give back to the surrounding community. We were so honored to be selected as stewards of the Washington Nationals and we are proud to have been a part of bringing the national pastime back to the nation’s capital.

Thank you, Mark, for chatting with us, and congratulations to your family on this very special anniversary!

Thank you!

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