- The Washington Times - Friday, April 15, 2005

On the field, the Washington Nationals’ home opener Thursday night was a smashing success from start to finish. But behind the scenes, the facility operations revealed a definite work in progress, with some corrections not expected until the team’s next homestand.

Officials for the Washington Nationals and D.C. Sports & Entertainment Commission conducted a series of postmortem meetings yesterday to review operations from the opener, which featured President Bush throwing out the first ball and a 5-3 win by the Nationals. Those sessions quickly enumerated many issues in need of attention, including:

• A public-address system not audible in some parts of the stadium.

• Long concession lines and some stands running out of food and condiments, most notably hot dogs and nacho cheese. Resupplying some concessions stands was further hampered by a slow freight elevator.

• Roughly 500 fans not receiving their tickets, holding duplicate tickets or tickets for seats that were removed in the $18.4 million stadium renovation.

• Field conditions that caused several Arizona Diamondbacks players to liken the facility to a high school field. The pitchers’ mound was filled in with clay during Thursday’s game, and again after the contest.

• Scoreboards that at times showed Washington with 11 runs, and alternately went long stretches without showing a score at all.

• Vendors illegally selling their wares on stadium property.

• Trash spilling out of waste cans.

“Overall, the fan experience, I think, was very positive,” said Allen Y. Lew, sports commission chief executive officer. “People seemed to be focusing more on the game. But we are still trying to get our arms around all of this. All of this is part of the learning curve.”

Operations should run considerably smoother tonight and tomorrow afternoon for the Nationals’ second and third home games. The massive security presence and metal detectors in place for the president’s arrival are now gone, as are most of the 650 credentialed media members who covered Thursday’s game.

But club and District officials cautioned that all problems will not be instantly fixed.

“This building has simply not been tested to this degree in quite a long time,” said Nationals President Tony Tavares. “I’m not making excuses for anybody, but this is a new experience for everybody. We’ve identified areas that need to be corrected, and we’re going to keep at it.”

While the sports commission and Nationals deal with their list of needed corrections, they also face the ongoing challenge of sharing the facility with D.C. United. During the Nationals opener, several soccer markings were plainly visible, while some others were painted green at the last minute to diminish their obviousness. The field will convert again to soccer use Friday, just hours after the Nationals complete their first homestand, for next Saturday’s United game against New England.

“My sense is, the field is going to improve as we really get the hang of these conversions,” Mr. Lew said. “We’re still working through all the mechanics of that. So far more of the complaints about the field have actually been on the soccer side.”

An “aggressive” parking-enforcement effort around the stadium resulted in scores of traffic tickets and a handful of towed vehicles.

Mary Myers, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, said yesterday that the 10 parking officers patrolling neighborhood streets issued 195 tickets to illegally parked vehicles. She said 19 vehicles were towed to the Blue Plains impoundment facility in Southwest. Miss Myers said that, for the time being, owners will continue to be able to retrieve their cars from the impound lot free of charge.

Security was so tight that Secret Service agents required one man to get out of his car at a checkpoint near the players’ parking lot while officers checked his glove compartment, looked underneath his hood and in the trunk of his blue Ferrari. Inside RFK Stadium, vendors sold programs, but without pencils to keep score.

Along with the sellout crowd of 45,596, the game also did well in the television ratings. The showing on WDCA-TV (Channel 20) posted a local rating of 7.1 and 11 share (159,154 TV households). The Nationals posted a local TV rating of 1.7 and a 5 share (about 38,000 households) for their season-opening game the afternoon of April 4 in Philadelphia.

The Nationals also were big business for Metro. The transit agency says yesterday was its fourth-busiest day ever, with more than 766,000 trips taken.

Last year’s funeral for former President Ronald Reagan tops the list, followed by President Clinton’s first inauguration in January 1993 and the Million Man March in October 1995.

Metro spokeswoman Candace Smith said more than 27,000 customers exited the Stadium-Armory station compared with about 2,700 on an average day.

Matt Cella contributed to this report, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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