The Washington Times - August 23, 2011, 05:54PM

As a 5.9-magnitude earthquake shook the Virginia, Maryland, D.C. area — and much of the rest of the East Coast just before 2 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon,Washington Nationals principal owner Mark Lerner watched as the center field scoreboard in his team’s park swayed back and forth.

The park was evacuated following the earthquake but staff members were let back in around 2:30 p.m. The park was still being checked for structural damages as 6 p.m. approached and while the Nationals did not anticipate the earthquake having any major effect on their scheduled 7:05 p.m. game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the opening of the gates to fans was delayed.


The center field gates at Nationals Park usually open 2 1/2 hours before game time — 4:35 p.m. for most night games — but the team announced this afternoon that the opening of the gates will be delayed until further notice as officials inspect the ballpark. There was no update on whether or not the game would start as scheduled at 7:05 p.m. or if it would be delayed or postponed.

The Nationals were getting set to take their 2011 team photo around 4 p.m. on the field. Outside the park, chaos reigned as traffic congested all major roads around the park and police blocked off one end of South Capitol Street, across from the park.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson was in his office at Nationals Park awaiting the team photo with his feet up on his desk. As the earthquake began, Johnson looked down at his arms and wondered if he might be having a tremor. Once he realized his desk was also shaking, he immediately knew it was an earthquake. Johnson said he survived a large one in California during his first season of professional baseball.

“You don’t expect that on the east coast,” Johnson said. “Hurricanes, yeah.”

Hurricane Irene is set to descend on the Washington area this weekend, as well, but the Nationals will be Cincinnati.

A lot of the Nationals were already in the clubhouse when the earthquake struck and while some of the more seasoned earthquake survivors said it was a decent shake but nothing to be too nervous about, others — who were to remain nameless — went running outside. Ryan Zimmerman and third base coach Bo Porter were in the parking lot when it hit, they told Johnson it looked like the cars were shaking.

Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa tweeted shortly after the earthquake that all Nationals fans getting out of work early should make their way over to the park to catch the game.

“If you get out of work early today because of the quake, come to the Nats game tonight!!!” Espinosa tweeted.

Espinosa, a Southern California native, was probably a little less shook up than Indiana native Drew Storen, who tweeted that he was walking down the street when the earthquake struck and watched a brick house nearly lose its chimney. Venezuelan catcher Jesus Flores also tweeted that he felt as though the mall would fall on him during the earthquake.

Everyone appeared present and accounted for during the team photo. While the Arizona Diamondbacks team bus was stuck in terrible traffic coming from their hotel near Pentagon City, the Nationals took the opportunity to have a relaxed day pregame. They did not hit on the field and most were relaxing in the clubhouse waiting for their chance to hit in the batting cage.