- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 2, 2005

The windup was stilted, the follow-through was awkward and several balls were fired straight toward the ground.

But with a few errant pitches from District Mayor Anthony A. Williams to varsity players from Eastern High School, the latest baseball life of RFK Stadium began yesterday.

Williams, along with a large collection of city officials and invited guests, toured RFK as workers scrambled to put the finishing touches on a frenetic, $18.4million renovation project.

The Washington Nationals officially will christen RFK tomorrow with their final exhibition game of the year against the New York Mets. But Williams and the Eastern players had a sneak preview yesterday, venturing onto the pristine playing field, complete with newly painted baselines, for about 30 minutes of catch.

Williams, whose official baseball career ended about 40 years ago in a Los Angeles Little League, hardly resembled Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson, the Hall of Famers Williams jokingly said Wednesday he hoped to emulate. But after being able to experience some of the first fruits of his efforts to return baseball to Washington, the mayor was ecstatic. Williams will throw out the first pitch tomorrow.

“This is one of my top achievements, no question,” Williams said, clad in a Nationals warmup suit and an Eastern ball cap. “This effort and the new stadium along the Anacostia River waterfront [due to open in 2008] are going to have a great impact on the city, just like the MCI Center. I look around RFK, and I see new features but still having the same classic RFK quality to it that we all know and love. Hopefully the stands will bounce.”

Tomorrow’s exhibition, while still nowhere near a sellout, is expected to have a crowd of between 30,000 and 35,000 after a recent spike in ticket sales. That total will include several thousand free tickets to area youth and workers from the RFK renovation, but the Nationals have sold more than 24,000, substantially more than 20,000 originally projected by the club.

Proceeds from the contest, billed as “the mayor’s game,” will go to the Nationals’ charitable foundation.

“I was shocked when I looked at the latest [sales] numbers. We’ve had a major run-up in the last few days. We’re very pleased,” Nationals president Tony Tavares said.

Meanwhile, D.C. Sports & Entertainment officials yesterday conducted the first of several meetings planned in the coming days with prospective purchasers of a partial-naming rights contract for RFK Stadium. The sports commission is seeking to have a corporate name precede the RFK Stadium moniker in a three-year pact generating between $4million and $6million total for District youth recreation facilities.

Mark Tuohey, sports commission chairman, declined to name the companies seeking the naming rights. But the interest finally marks the arrival of official, written proposals after commission officials were inundated with lukewarm telephone inquiries that never generated genuine bids.

“It’s taken a while to get to this point, but we have several proposals now coming in that we think could have some real promise,” Tuohey said. “I still think we can get this done and have a deal in time for the [April 14] home opener.”

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