The Washington Times - April 4, 2009, 06:57PM

Hello from Nationals Park, where more than a few good seats are still available for the exhibition between the Nationals and Orioles (currently in the third inning). By my estimate (and this is a pure guess), there’s probably less than 17,000 people here. Could be the first of quite a few sparse crowds here this year,

The Nationals announced their 25-man roster earlier this afternoon, but we still don’t know who the right-fielder is. Manny Acta said this afternoon he’d made a decision between Austin Kearns (who is in right field tonight) and Elijah Dukes, but planned to make it public after the game.


“We were having the Fan Fest (at Nationals Park) today, and I thought it was appropriate to talk to them after all that,” Acta said. “We have a lot of respect for our fans, and I really didn’t want anybody with long faces or being mad out there while signing autographs or taking pictures.”

The hunch here is it’s Kearns who starts the year in right; he’s outplayed Dukes this spring, he’s a steadier player at this point, he’s a favorite of Acta’s and he’s making $8 million this season. But we’ll see what the official decision is.

Also: Nick Johnson isn’t in the lineup tonight; his five-month-old son, Nick Jr., took a bad fall this afternon and smacked his head on the ground. Johnson was flying down to Miami to be with his family tonight, although he said his son didn’t need stitches and is acting like nothing happened. Still a scary moment, though.

Johnson will work out with the team Sunday and be ready to go for Monday’s opener.

Finally, wanted to pass along this initiative the Nats have put together with the District—a pretty cool project that allows all 12 public high school baseball teams in D.C. to hold a two-hour practice at Nationals Park before the end of the baseball season. The team is also holding an equipment drive May 1-3, where fans can bring gently used baseball or softball gear to donate to the public schools. Mayor Adrian Fenty was here this afternoon for the announcement.

Talking to Giants infielder (and District native) Emmanuel Burriss last year and Marquis Grissom earlier this year, it’s obvious the shoddy field conditions in inner-city schools are a big part of why the game’s declining there. The goal is to give kids the chance to spend a day on a big-league field and infuse a little more pride about playing the game.

Back with more later.