- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

Hundreds of baseball fans braved chilling winds and slow-moving lines yesterday at RFK Memorial Stadium to purchase tickets for the Washington Nationals’ second season, with the home opener set for April 11 against the New York Mets.

Chartese Burnett, the team’s vice president of communications, said more than 37,000 single-game tickets were sold in the first hour at the box office, online and by telephone.

“The turnout was more than expected, and it rivals last year, when we sold 50,000 [single-game] tickets in six hours,” Miss Burnett said.

By late afternoon, she said, the team had sold more than 50,000 tickets and was well ahead of last year’s pace.

Season tickets and 20-game miniplans went on sale last month.

The team finished 81-81 last season, taking fifth place in the competitive National League East. But most fans were cautiously optimistic yesterday when forecasting the team’s performance this year.

“Baseball is a tricky game,” said Harold Gaither of Southeast. “They might have another .500 season or better, but you never know with injuries. I do think the [lack of] pitching will hurt them, though.”

Mr. Gaither, 66, joined the line about an hour after the box office opened at 10 a.m. to buy tickets for the home opener and promised to stay “until I get ‘em.”

By then, Tim Bilbro, a systems engineer from Burke, had withstood the blustery weather for more than two hours and had merely reached the midpoint of the line.

Mr. Bilbro, 39, had season tickets last year, but decided to buy single tickets because he won’t be able to attend as many games. His reasons for coming to the stadium were mostly about economics.

“I figured I’d save money in line, rather than going on the Web or calling in, because of the surcharges,” he said. “Plus working with a person, you can show them where you want to sit, instead of dealing with a computer. But I won’t wait another two hours. I have to eat at some point.”

Miss Burnett couldn’t explain the appeal or advantage of waiting in line to buy tickets, as opposed to purchasing online or by telephone.

“The common-sense [explanation] would be that if folks don’t have credit cards or a computer, then they can’t phone in for tickets or go online,” she said.

But a tradition such as going to the ballpark to buy tickets to see one’s favorite teams often defies explanation.

“A lot of these people are excited to be out here,” Miss Burnett said. “We’re holding raffles, giving away prizes and food.”

She had a ready explanation for the big turnout yesterday — the optimism generated by the team’s success last year.

“There’s a whole new wave of people who are jumping on the bandwagon,” Miss Burnett said.

The Nationals drew about 2.7 million fans to the stadium during their inaugural season in the District.

Ticket prices have remained mostly the same, though seats will cost more for 11 designated “premium” home games: the home opener against the Mets, weekend series against the popular New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs, and the Oct. 1 season finale, also against the Mets.

Fans can expect to pay an additional $5 to $10 a ticket for those games.

Jeff Dorman, of Arlington, used his time in line to chat up passersby and fellow line dwellers about the Nats fan club, DeezNats, that he and four friends started last year.

“It grew faster than expected, so we began selling T-shirts to raise money for tailgate parties and events at bars,” Mr. Dorman said. “We ended up getting a pretty good following last year.”

Mr. Dorman, who already has season tickets, waited for hours to buy tickets for the home opener and for a March 31 exhibition game against the Orioles. He said the tickets will be given away on his club’s Web site, www.deeznats.com.

“I love the team, glad [baseball’s] back in town,” he said. “This season — though you should never make predictions until the season starts. It could be tough. Lot of disarray, lot of injuries. But you never know, baseball’s a funny game.”

Got a question about the Nats? Mark Zuckerman has the answers. To

submit a question, go to the Sports Page

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