- The Washington Times - Monday, April 2, 2007

Washington Nationals fans packed RFK Stadium yesterday with some optimism about a first winning season and lots of nostalgia for the team’s final opening home game in the 46-year-old stadium.

“I grew up in this ballpark,” said Jules Johnson, 52. “I remember the old team. … I used to go to games with my father when bleacher seats were a dollar.”

Mr. Johnson, from Fort Totten, was at the stadium for the last Senators game and the first Nationals game. He’s already making plans to attend the first game in the new, $611 million stadium on the Anacostia waterfront, but he said it won’t be the same.

“I’m going to really miss it,” he said of RFK. “My childhood was here.”

Despite predictions of a losing season for the Nationals and a 9-2 loss yesterday to the Florida Marlins, Mr. Johnson hopes for a good season.

“Win or lose, this is the first day,” he said. “You can still believe that it’s going to happen.”

Other fans also expressed hope for an Opening Day win or a Cinderella season but were really more excited about being outside for a glorious spring afternoon.

“If somebody said they were going to lose every game, I would still come,” said Daniel Cumberland Sr., 62, of Germantown. “Seventy-five degrees and a breeze — you can’t beat it.”

Fans began arriving from packed Metro trains hours before the 1:05 p.m. start, and 10 minutes after the game started a long line remained at the gate.

Metro ran extra trains and two express trains to accommodate the paid attendance of 40,389 in the 56,000-seat stadium. The agency reported no significant problems or delays.

The Metropolitan Police Department also reported no major problems.

However, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had a tough day: He bounced his Opening Day pitch to home plate, which brought a round of boos.

In the stadium’s parking lot, Skip Brookbank and friends played Wiffle ball next to his “party bus,” a GMC school bus packed with knickknacks and posters and crowned with loudspeakers blasting reggae tunes.

“It’s a perfect day. This is what spring is all about,” said Mr. Brookbank, 40, of Mechanicsville, who said he attends four or five games a season.

A short distance away, Tommy Boehm grilled hamburgers and hot dogs for 40 fans who chartered a bus from Fairfax.

Mr. Boehm said he helps organize the trip a few times a season for the fans, many of whom said they care more about the food and spending a day outside than the game.

“We’ve got stadium dogs and a bus with a bathroom,” said Tina Miller, 31 of Fairfax. “What more could you want?”

Michael Henningburg of Silver Spring said he doesn’t follow baseball and came to the game with his wife only to celebrate his 69th birthday.

“I thought this would be a good opportunity to get some good air, good weather and see what’s going on down here,” he said. “I wish the Redskins were back though.”

He wasn’t the only person thinking about the Redskins on the Nationals’ big day.

“I was here when the Senators left, and I was here when the baseball team came back,” said Stanley Wade, 54, who came to game wearing a jersey of former Redskin star quarterback Doug Williams. “Now I’m waiting for the Redskins or the Landover Redskins or whatever they call them to come back.”

RFK Stadium was home to the Washington Redskins from 1961 to 1996, during which the team went to five Super Bowls.

The stadium also was home to the Washington Senators from 1962 to 1971 and hosted the 1962 and 1969 Major League Baseball All-Star games.

Since 1996, the stadium had been home to Major League Soccer’s D.C. United and began sharing with the Nationals in 2005.

The stadium has hosted matches in the 1994 FIFA World Cup and 2003 Women’s World Cup.


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