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Is the national pastime coming to the capital?

In Washington nowadays, they aren't just playing hardball, they're playing chicken. In September, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams jubilantly waved a Washington Nationals hat, celebrating the return of baseball to the nation's capital after 33 years. The deal was sealed when the city agreed to pay for — and build — a new, $440 million dollar stadium.

But last week the D.C. City Council sandbagged the mayor's agreement, saying the city should pay only half what the stadium costs.

"There are too many public dollars in this," says Linda Cropp, chairwoman of the D.C. City Council.

Furious, major league baseball shut down the team's operations — insisting that a deal's a deal — even if some say it's a raw deal.

"Baseball is holding all the cards in this; and the mayor had to do what he had to do to get the baseball team," says Washington Post columnist George Solomon.

So should the council be condemned for potentially scuttling a deal, or applauded for standing up to the lords of baseball?

Proponents argue baseball would be a bonanza for Washington — citing how new stadiums in Cleveland and Baltimore have revitalized once run-down neighborhoods. But a new stadium in Seattle hasn't had that effect, and sports economists argue there's no reason to think a new ballpark would rejuvenate Washington's dilapidated waterfront.

"Don't try to make the argument that this is somehow going to provide a windfall for the city's economy because there isn't evidence to support that," says Robert Baade, a sports economist and professor at Lake Forest College in Chicago.

All this has the hot stove league sizzling: in a Washington Post poll, 56 percent said baseball shouldn't be a priority when city schools are falling apart.

"Instead of taking care of these kids, worrying about the future of our youth, they're worried about — a baseball team?" said one fan at a chili restaurant.

Monday, city officials huddled, but reported no agreement. And as major league baseball refused to budge, fans grumbled. Who, they wonder, will blink first?