- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Jeffrey Saffelle had been waiting 34 years to see a baseball game at RFK Stadium. Yesterday, his patience was rewarded.

“I grew up with the Senators,” said Mr. Saffelle, who wore his red Senators hat as he stood outside the stadium yesterday morning. “I just can’t wait. It’s our team and our city.”

Mr. Saffelle, 45, and his wife, Sohnna Sallah, 53, both of Alexandria, were among the thousands who showed up, despite the blustery weather, to cheer on the Washington Nationals as the team played for the first time in the District — an exhibition game against the New York Mets, which the Nationals lost 4-3, one day before their season opener, an away game in Philadelphia.

The Nationals’ season home opener is April 14 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Jason Hoskins Jr., 10, and his father, Jason Hoskins Sr., 32, came to the stadium two hours early to watch batting practice. The game began at 12:05 p.m.

“He’s in Little League,” Mr. Hoskins said about his son, “so we wanted to get him down here to watch. Since it’s here [in D.C.], it’s almost the same as Opening Day. It’s good to have a team back.”

Several hundred fans shivered in front of the admittance gates starting at about 9:30 a.m., 2 hours before the game was scheduled to start. Snow fell briefly, and gusts of wind sent baseball hats flying toward the parking lots.

“We’d be a little more excited if it wasn’t so cold,” said Mike Patton, 35, of Sterling, Va., who brought his son, Mike Patton Jr., 10, and Jason Miller, 11. The boys were bundled up in winter coats and hats to ward off the 32-mph winds and temperatures in the low 40s.

The gates opened at about 10:45 a.m.

Rosalina Segovia, 10, came to watch with other players from the District’s Field of Dreams Little League.

“Ever since my coach has been pushing me really hard, I’ve been watching baseball,” she said. “I used to like the Orioles and before that the Yankees. Now I like the Nationals.”

Some parents used the exhibition game to introduce their children to the national pastime.

Warren Tibbs, 44, of Ashburn brought his son, Nelson, 2. Despite his youth, Nelson seemed excited to be at the game as he repeatedly shouted “baseball.”

Mr. Tibbs said his father had brought him to Opening Day in 1971. “We’re getting Nelson started early. Next year we are going to spring training.”

“He already loves baseball,” Catherine Tibbs, 38, said of her son. “All he does at home is throw the ball.”

Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey attended the game both as a police officer and a baseball fan.

“I’m kind of working and watching,” he said. “I hope to be off sometime so that I can sit down and watch.”

Police presence at the event was notable, but not overbearing.

“I’m out here … to see that the detail goes well. Things are going good so far,” Chief Ramsey said.

To some fans, yesterday’s game was a dream come true.

“We wanted to get a team here. We were behind the idea in 1999,” said Bob E. Webster, 35, of Alexandria. Mr. Webster was a board member with Virginians for Baseball, an organization that led a campaign to bring baseball to the area.

Mr. Webster and his father, Bob J. Webster, 64, were on hand to mark the occasion. “We also went to Camden Yards’ first opener to be part of history,” the senior Mr. Webster said. “But [today] means a lot more because it’s our team and we can root for them even if they’re terrible.”

As for the Saffelles, the couple will travel to Philadelphia today to see the Nationals’ season opener against the Phillies.

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