- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thousands of fans, savoring a perfect spring day and still excited about baseball’s return to the District one year ago, flocked to RFK Stadium for the Washington Nationals home opener yesterday.

“There’s nothing like that sound,” said Craig London of Alexandria as he heard the calls of peanut and program vendors echo inside the stadium. “It’s one of the best things in the country; it’s what we are. There’s nothing like baseball.”

The Nationals had lost five of their first seven outings to begin the season, and just two hours before Vice President Dick Cheney threw out the first pitch of yesterday’s game against the New York Mets, one vendor said there were still about 1,000 tickets for sale.

The announced crowd was 40,530, short of a sellout crowd.

“It’s the second season, so the glamour and novelty has worn off,” said Bob Gordon, 48, a defense contractor from Centreville, Va., who arrived early to the game.

Still, fans from around the region set up tailgate parties and played catch in the stadium parking lots as soon as their gates opened at 10 a.m.

In front of the stadium, parents took their children to play in a giant bounce house or get their faces painted, while others garbed in red and white Nationals gear shared beer and barbecue around smoking grills.

“We are psyched,” said Tony DiLeo, 35, of Laytonsville, Md., part of a large family of tailgaters enjoying the sunny 70-degree day. “This is like the weather from God. I took the day off from work, turned my cell phone off, and no one can get in touch with me.

“We are loving life,” he said.

Kevin Moran, a police officer from Waldorf, Md., set up a sandlot game of Wiffle ball for his son and nephew in one of the parking lots, complete with a baseball glove and blocks of wood for bases.

“Opening Day is just a special thing … it’s a great father-son thing, and hopefully it will be special to them,” said the 45-year-old officer.

Before the game, Glenn Hecton of Annandale, played catch with his 10-year-old son, Robert, a Little League shortstop.

“We wanted to be here for batting practice,” said Mr. Hecton, 41. “We’re on spring break. We would have been skipping school if it weren’t spring break.”

“We were here when President Bush threw out the first pitch,” said Robert, as his father pointed to the pins on his baseball cap, commemorating last year’s opening game.

A license plate emblazoned, “Nats Win,” was on the bumper of a Dodge van belonging to Rick Dickerson, who brought his 9-year-old son, Nick, to see the home opener.

“I had a Nats tag before they existed,” said Mr. Dickerson, 46, a mechanical engineer from Centreville. “I think they are going to win today because of the big crowd.”

In the end, the Mets defeated the Nationals 7-1.

While the Nationals made mostly minor moves in the offseason, the signing of second baseman turned outfielder Alfonso Soriano and a healthy Jose Vidro have some fans optimistic for the upcoming season.

With pitchers John Patterson and Livan Hernandez anchoring the rotation, some said the team’s success is iffy, but attainable.

“I’ll be happy if we get the same result as we did last year,” said Joe Baker, 46, of Falls Church, who cooked barbecue chicken wings and shared whiskey highballs with two friends before the game. “People didn’t want to mess with the National League East last year. Hopefully, they won’t this year.”

Officials with the D.C. Department of Transportation said Mr. Cheney’s departing motorcade caused temporary road closures toward the end of the game, but no other major traffic problems were reported. Police said there was a minor accident at 17th and Benning Road in Northeast at about 1:30 p.m., but they didn’t know whether it created any backups.

Many Nats fans used Metro to get to RFK, and neighbors said there was no problem of motorists parking in front of nearby homes like there was last year.

“Parking used to be a problem,” said Adeyam Beyenne, who lives near the stadium in the 1900 block of Constitution Avenue. “But they started giving tickets, and it stopped.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide