- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

John White has been gearing up for the opening day of baseball season for months. The 24-year-old New Carrollton resident asked to take yesterday off from work the moment he heard the District had secured a baseball team.

“I took a legitimate day off. I’m embracing the new home team,” he said.

Mr. White and other members of the Washington Nationals fan club gathered at ESPN Zone in Northwest yesterday to cheer on the new home team in its opening game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

“It’s very exciting having a team in D.C. again. I plan to go to as many games as I can get tickets for,” said Philip Saksa, 24, of Gaithersburg, who was watching the game with some friends from work at the bar.

Despite the baseball-themed decorations and free Cracker Jack munchies, turnout at the restaurant was low yesterday. Mr. White said most of the fan club had gone to Philadelphia on a chartered bus.

“I think like 89 percent of them went; I didn’t buy a ticket, which is why I’m here,” he said.

Bonnie Downing, regional marketing director for ESPN Zone, said the restaurant wasn’t running any specials, but had expected a crowd to show up for the first game.

The turnout didn’t bother Michael DeHart, who continued a longtime family tradition by bringing his 13-year-old son, Jon, with him to celebrate opening day.

“I was a Senators fan when I was a kid, and it’s good to see them back,” Mr. DeHart said. He plans to attend the April 16 game and bought his son tickets to another game for his birthday present.

Across the street at Harry’s Restaurant and Saloon, Jack Custis, a government worker, was watching the game between the National League teams while he waited for his bus.

“I was born and raised an Orioles fan, but I have yet to go to Camden Yards. I’m excited there is a team in D.C. Now I can have a team in both leagues,” he said.

Mark Butcher, an employee at Harry’s, said people came in all day “with their hats on,” and he expected business to pick up as the day went on.

“A place like this — we survive on sports season,” he said.

Those hats were just the thing for which Rick and Cindy Cohn from Iowa had been looking.

“We can’t find the D.C. hats anywhere; someone told us they were only sold at the stadium,” Mrs. Cohn said.

The Cohns were not the only tourists on the hunt for Nationals hats. Scott Schaffer of Scottsdale, Ariz., was hoping to bring back a memento of his hometown when he returns to his private contracting job in Iraq.

“I’ve been back and forth in the last four months, so I haven’t really been following everything that’s been going on, but it’s good to see them here. It’s going to do a lot for the area,” he said.

Brad Parker, 36, of Gaithersburg, had a dentist appointment that was going to make him miss the first half of the game, but he planned to take the rest of the day off to catch the end of the game.

“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I bought a 20-game plan and plan on going out to opening day,” he said.

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

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