- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Camden Yards has the B&O; Warehouse. Fenway Park has the Green Monster. Wrigley Field has the ivy-covered outfield wall.

And after just five baseball games, RFK Stadium already has its defining characteristic — the bouncing stands.

It may not be a new sight for Washington sports fans familiar with RFK, whose stands used to bounce during Redskins games. But that was another time, and not something the rest of country was really clued into.

The Washington Nationals may not have been thrilled with some of the early coverage on ESPN’s SportsCenter, but when they show a Nationals game, the fans bouncing up and down in those movable field-level stands down the left field line have become a regular feature.

It is remarkable how much baseball feels at home at RFK. For all of the frustrations the old ballpark has for both fans and players alike — and there is a pretty long list — it has a great atmosphere, and the bouncing stands have a lot to do with that.

They have gained so much attention that fans are looking for ways to buy tickets for those seats, so they can have the bouncing experience — sort of like a ride at Disney World.

The players love the sight of fans bouncing in the stands — sort of a visual complement to the roar of the crowd.

“The first time I saw them doing it, I thought they were going to fall down,” outfielder Brad Wilkerson said. “It’s fun to see the fans so excited about baseball. It’s like they are creating their own thing here in Washington in this first season, something that just happens at Nationals games.”

Hey, if those stands didn’t collapse during the Redskins’ memorable three-week RFK playoff run in January 1983, they will never fall. They are battle tested.

Nationals manager Frank Robinson heard some people talking about it, and recently got a look for himself. “I didn’t notice it at first because I am focused on the field,” he said. “But then somebody mentioned it to me, and the other day I happened to look that way and saw them. I think it is great, as long as the stands hold up.

“Now we have to get the other side going, get it in rhythm,” Robinson said, although if the stands on the other side of the field start bouncing, then you should start worrying, because they are permanent seats and should not be moving.

The bouncing stands certainly are different from what these players had in Montreal, where fans there had their own unique way of participating. Even if there were just 9,000 fans in Olympic Stadium, they would let the players know they were excited by slamming the empty seats on either side of them up and down.

The movable stands are the result of RFK being the first of the multi-purpose stadiums that came along in the 1960s to accommodate both football and baseball. It is a feature from another era. They may grow so popular that HOK Sports, the architects designing the new Southeast ballpark, might be lobbied to recreate the bouncing stands in the Nationals’ new home. (If someone can charge more to sit there, they will find a way to incorporate bouncing seats.)

The stands aren’t the only part of RFK that rocks when the fans get going. The press box shakes as well, which sort of unnerved television analyst Ron Darling the first time. “It’s a lot better than the wave,” Darling said of the bouncing stands. “But it was a little scary and a little nuts the first time. I’m from California, and when things shake, we get nervous.”

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