- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

By most accounts, the appearance of President Bush at last night’s opener at Nationals Park was a welcome return to tradition. But it was also an unwelcome headache for fans eager to get into the new ballpark.

Security measures put in place by the Secret Service caused massive backups at nearly every entrance as thousands of fans waited more than an hour to enter the ballpark.

We got off the Metro and walked all the way around to the home plate gate, said Nick Manicone, a lawyer from Vienna. It probably took us an hour to get in. We probably got here about 6:45 and didn’t get in until 7:45. It was worse than we expected. I understand it’s the opening game and the President’s here, but that wasn’t good.

Several fans complained of too few metal detectors at gates around the ballpark, while fans with suite access and those sitting in the Presidential and PNC Diamond Club seats were blocked from entering when Bush arrived.

But Nationals president Stan Kasten said there was virtually nothing the team could do to move fans through the gate more quickly. The Secret Service imposes its own security rules for the president, and they can’t be changed.

They’re an expert at what they do, and they completely adhere to everything they tell us, Kasten said. It’s completely non-negotiable.

Kasten said the team tried to mitigate the problem by opening gates at 3:30 p.m. for the game, which started at 8:21 p.m.

We opened the park four hours early, Kasten said. We did warn people extensively. And I believe everyone was in the park at the start of the game.

Elsewhere in the ballpark, lines at concession stands and restrooms measured as many as 100 people deep in some sections, particularly down the first-base line in the lower concourse. There appeared to be a crush of fans flocking to buy food and drink following the first inning because fans remained seated during the ceremonial first pitch and other pregame festivities.

Everybody’s been hearing about the food, so everybody wants to test it out, Chas Andrews, an accountant from Arlington, said as he waited in a long line for pizza.

Joey Hefferon, a congressional affairs aide from Arlington, said she ordered a hot dog but found it puny and decided to order a hamburger as well.

I like the food at RFK better, she said.

Just like at Saturday’s exhibition game, Ben’s Chili Bowl was the most popular stand. Kasten said the team was working with the staff of Ben’s to ensure the line moved more quickly. He also said he expected the lines to be shorter in future games as fans realize Ben’s menu items are available at other stands.

We made some revisions today, and we still need to work on stuff, Kasten said. We changed the direction of the lines. We changed some of the prep stuff. But it’s Ben’s. People love Ben’s. I’m very glad Ben’s is here.

There were some other hiccups throughout the ballpark; some fans complained of inoperable automated teller machines, and there were several reports of a bottleneck near the entrance facing the PNC Diamond Club restaurant.

There appeared to be some confusion about when fans were permitted to purchase the much-advertised $5 upper decks seats from the Nationals’ box office.

Chuck Shouey, 54, of Alexandria, the first fan in line, said the Nationals had told him the ticket window would open at 10 a.m. As of 3 p.m., it was still closed. He said several fans who arrived early gave up and left.

It wasn’t about money, said Shouey, who arrived more than 14 hours before game time to be first in line to get one of 400 upper-deck tickets for $5. It was about being either in or out, and we wanted to be in.

But most fans said that despite the hassle of getting in and the long lines at concessions, they expected things to improve at future games.

I think it’s just tonight. You kind of expect it, Andrews said. It’ll be fine next game.

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